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ANC faces wave of new competition in heartland

Stuart Graham

The ANC is in no danger of losing its heartland -- the Eastern Cape -- on election Wednesday, but the party is now facing a wave of new competition.

The ANC is in no danger of losing its heartland—the Eastern Cape—on election Wednesday, but for the first time the party is facing a wave of new competition from disgruntled supporters looking for solutions to old problems.

On Thursday thousands of supporters wearing yellow Congress of the People T-shirts turned out in force to hear party leader Mvume Dandala speak in the African National Congress strongholds of King William’s Town and the town of his birth, Mount Ayliff.

A day earlier, Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille had a crowd of hundreds singing and cheering her on in the town of Butterworth, another ANC stronghold. The party’s support has grown dramatically from 250 votes in Butterworth in the 2004 national election to more than 5 000 votes in the 2006 municipal election.

‘People are starting to move from the past,” says Professor Kofi Etsiah, a political science professor at the University of Fort Hare.

‘Five years ago South Africa was too close to the death of the old system. They associated the ANC with their freedom. But now people are questioning more and more whether they are any better off. The more distant the past becomes the less people will identify with it.”

Etsiah believes that opposition parties have no choice but to come together in the future.

‘Time and developments compel opposition parties to come together with their one common factor being the dislike of the ruling party.

‘The central question in politics is power. Unless you possess it, you cannot put your ideas into practice. You are nowhere.”

For the Eastern Cape, where about 55% of the population is unemployed, voters are increasingly expected to shift their loyalty to parties that are able to come up with ways of creating jobs and providing services.

‘Life is very difficult for most of us,” says one woman from the informal settlement of Zweledinga outside Port Elizabeth.

‘When it rains the water comes into our shacks. It is very dark at night because there is no electricity in many places. It is not safe.”

She says only one tap serves a large part of the settlement and there are also no proper toilets.

‘What is very bad is that many of the people do not have jobs,” she says.

‘Many of the people are struggling to find work.”

Descriptions like these of life in the Eastern Cape are heard in villages and townships across the province.

Political analyst Protas Madlala says the Eastern Cape’s poor are becoming more and more despondent and this might drive them to other political parties. But he believes that parties such as Cope and the DA are not viable alternatives.

‘Cope is seen as too disorganised with too much baggage attached to it,” he says.

“The DA is seen as a white party and the scars from the past are still fresh.”

Veliswa Mvenya, a DA councillor in Butterworth who comes from a rural village in the area, says the party’s increased support is directly due to its delivery of services and its hard stance against corruption.

‘The ANC is afraid of the DA, they are poisoning people’s minds about the DA, saying it is a white party,” she says.

‘People are tired of corruption in Butterworth. They know they will get something better from the DA.”

What is likely to test voter loyalty in the Eastern Cape province in the coming years will be pressure to come up with solutions for the province’s economy, which is heavily reliant on the slowing motor industry.

Demand for motor vehicles has slowed dramatically since the start of the global financial crisis last year. General Motors, which is a major employer in the Nelson Mandela Bay area, is one example of the slowing industry. Earlier in April it announced it would retrench 700 workers.

‘We have to look to other industries to lead us through,” says the DA’s Eastern Cape leader Athol Trollip, who believes the province will have to make greater use of its agricultural land and tourist assets if it is to fare well in the coming years.

‘These are the mines that we are going to have to run in order to stimulate jobs.”

Agriculture is the backbone of the Eastern Cape and the sector with the most potential to combat poverty and create jobs and sustainable livelihoods, says Trollip, himself a farmer.

Poverty, particularly in rural areas, needs to be addressed “by innovative thinking, aggressive training and adequate farmer support”.

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa, once the leader of the Transkei homeland, says that he would like more to be done to rescue the province’s motor industry.

‘The question is how to rescue this industry without losing the focus in the big picture,” Holomisa says.

He feels that Eastern Cape is under-budgeted ‘in a big way” with areas such as the rural Transkei and Ciskei still heavily neglected.

‘We need to look at a master plan to integrate Ciskei and Transkei into the main economies,” he says.

Cope believes that a lot can be done to improve the province’s economy by upgrading infrastructure.

The party’s ‘plan of action” for the province includes developing the corridor between Butterworth and Mount Ayliff by upgrading roads and linking villages to towns. Another of its plans is to revive agricultural production schemes such as pineapple and citrus farms in the Peddie or Fort Beaufort regions.

‘Our plan is to modernise the economy of the whole province,” says senior Cope member Wiseman Nkuhlu.

This, he says, means spreading the industrial centres out of the province’s two major cities, Port Elizabeth and East London.

ANC executive committee member and former provincial economic affairs minister Enoch Godongwana believes the Eastern Cape’s economy has improved dramatically when compared with where it came from.

“We inherited a declining economy,” he says.

‘In that context we have inherited huge deficit and debt. We reached a peak of 5% growth in 2006. We’re beginning to make an impact in infrastructure.”

The Eastern Cape, he adds, contributes a meagre 7,8% a year to South Africa’s economy.

The solutions to the province’s problems however, are likely to remain in the hands of the ruling party for at least the next five years.

A recent poll by Plus 94 predicts that the ANC will take 44 of the 63 seats in the Eastern Cape provincial legislature in the election, compared to the 53% has.

Cope is expected to take 12 seats. The UDM which currently has four seats is expected to win only one in the election. The DA is predicted to keep the five seats it currently holds. The Independent Democrats is predicted to win one seat.

The African People’s Convention, a breakaway party from the Pan-Africanist Party, is likely to lose the one seat it currently holds.

The ANC is aware that its hold on the Eastern Cape may become increasingly precarious.

“Voters do not have infinite loyalty,” says Sicelo Gqobana, who is in charge of the party’s election campaign in the province.

‘They will not stay patient with the ANC forever. If the ANC wants to stay in power it will have to improve its performance in the Eastern Cape.” - Sapa

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