UMLAZI, Durban (Reuters) - Young, poor, supporters of South Africa’s African National Congress are weary of reminders of its liberation struggle, concentrating instead on the ruling party’s failure to deliver jobs which could cost it votes in local elections next week.
With a quarter of the work force unemployed and the jobless rate among blacks aged between 20 and 24 at over 48 percent, millions of voters say their lives have barely improved since the ANC won the first multi-racial elections in 1994.
Discontent is rising and ANC supporters are seeking alternatives. Polls say the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance will win 36 percent of the vote in the economic hub of Johannesburg in the Aug. 3 vote, compared to 35 percent at the last municipal elections in 2011 and may also see gains in two other big metro areas.
But the real switch amongst unemployed ANC supporters may be towards the Economic Freedom Fighters, whose radical leftist ideology, including a vow to redistribute the economic wealth still largely held by whites among poor blacks, resonates with unemployed youth in Africa’s most industrialized country.
“I don’t think the ANC government is doing enough to create jobs. Five years is too long to be unemployed,” said Lindo Mavundla, 24, who has not had a job since leaving agricultural college in 2011.
“I‘m not sure there’s any point in voting next week, but if I do, it will be for the EFF,” Mavundla, who lives in Umlazi township outside the coastal city of Durban and survives mainly on the social grant received by his grandmother.
Polls predict the EFF will win 9 percent, 13 percent and six percent in the three key metros of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay, in its first municipal contest.
As a result, the ANC’s support is seen dropping to 31 percent, 23 percent and 28 percent respectively from 59 percent, 55 percent and 52 percent five years ago.
ANC supporter Zinhle Khumalo has also lost faith in the party of the country’s first black president, Nelson Mandela.
Many say President Jacob Zuma has not lived up to the optimism that heralded Mandela’s inauguration 22 years ago.
Among many scandals, Zuma survived impeachment in April after the top court said he breached the constitution by ignoring a recommendation by the graft watchdog to pay back some of the money used to refurbish his rural residence.
“We keep getting promises of municipal jobs but they never materialize. I have called the local ANC offices to warn them that they will lose votes if they’re not careful,” said Khumalo, aged 36, who lives in one of several poorly serviced informal settlements that have sprung up around Umlazi.
Known in the local Zulu language as “i‘mjondolo”, the settlements comprise wooden shacks whose residents often have no access to running water and electricity and youth crime rates are high.
The unemployment rate was 26.6 percent of the labor force in the second quarter of the year, data showed on Thursday.
This was only a slight improvement from a record 26.7 percent in the first three months of the year, in an economy forecast to grow by zero percent by the central bank after a commodity price downturn and a drought that dented farm output. Growth has barely picked up since a recession in 2008/09.
Unemployment among blacks, by far the largest population group among South Africa’s 55 million people, stands at over 30 percent, compared with just 7 percent for whites.
The ANC says it has made significant strides in delivering better housing, water and electricity to South African citizens with limited resources, and accuses the private sector of not pulling its weight in helping create jobs.
“We fought for the liberation of South Africa as the ANC and some of our leaders spent years in jail. We can’t fix everything that needs fixing in one day, but we will get to it,” Zuma told a rally this month, urging supporters not to abandon the party.
Unemployment has provided campaign fodder for the EFF, which is looking to build on its support base after winning 6 percent of the vote when it debuted in 2014 general elections.
“Support for the EFF appears to be strongest amongst the black, unemployed youth, between the ages of 18 and 34,” Lefika Securities economist Colen Garrow said. “People without jobs, or the prospect of having a decent one, is probably where the biggest challenge for the ANC will be.”
The DA, which elected Mmusi Maimane as its first black leader last year in a bid to boost its appeal across all races, has also taken up unemployment as a key campaign slogan.
“We have made jobs our top priority, because right now almost nine million South Africans cannot find work,” Maimane told a rally this week.
Still, voter apathy, especially among the youth could see the ANC squeak through the ballot.
A study by the Institute for Security Studies released this week found that young people are increasingly frustrated by their lot in life but do not see elections as a solution.
“These frustrations entrench the notion that participating in a democratic process like the elections is futile, as it brings with it little to no change in their lives,” researcher Lauren Tracey said in the report.
Additional reporting by Siyabonga Sishi; Editing by James Macharia and Anna Willard