Analysis: ANC risks losing South Africa's "born free" voters

Mon Jan 28, 2013 7:37am EST
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By Jon Herskovitz

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - When Nelson Mandela and his ANC party dreamed of South Africa's future after apartheid, they probably imagined someone like Fulufhelo Davhana, a young black who has seen the doors of opportunity opened wide and is destined for achievement.

But Davhana, a 23-year-old accounting student at the University of Johannesburg's Soweto Campus, is dreaming of a future when the African National Congress elders who ended white minority rule no longer call the shots.

"Our current leaders don't understand about the 'born free' generation because they are still stuck in the past," he said.

These South Africans, who were born after apartheid ended in 1994 and have lived only under democracy, can vote for the first time in presidential elections next year and could begin reshaping politics in Africa's largest economy.

Many older South Africans still feel grateful to the ANC for winning their freedom, ensuring the party unbroken power for the past two decades. However, the "born frees" are not as swayed by history as their elders, and studies show that most people reaching the minimum voting age of 18 have no party allegiance.

With youth unemployment double the national average at about 50 percent, they instead want to hold the ANC under President Jacob Zuma accountable for the rampant corruption and bureaucratic incompetence that even the party admits are undermining its governance.

A TV advertising campaign this month by a leading bank has stoked the conflict. It shows teenagers speaking hopefully of their future but criticizing the ANC for being stuck in the past and unwilling to fix current problems.

"We need to stop relying on government and rely on ourselves," one student said. "The government is only thinking for themselves. I'm from a rural area and the government doesn't see what's happening," said another.   Continued...

A child runs towards a burning barricade during a strike by farm workers at De Doorns on the N1 highway, linking Cape Town and Johannesburg, in this January 9, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/Files