From its potholed roads to broken clinics and failing schools, the Free State has come to symbolise the human and political cost of state capture. With its historical links to the ANC’s foundation story, overwhelming victory in the province should be a given. Its capital, Bloemfontein, is, after all, the place where the party was born in 1912.
But, in this election, support from the ANC is set to drop by 8%. Its share of the vote currently sits at 63% — higher than the national average for the party — and the CSIR predicts that this will end up at around 62%.
That’s 5% higher than what the CSIR predicts the ANC will get nationally. And the number is part of a national trend of voters turning away from the party. But the province has also been ground zero for corruption and state capture.
Under the “Premier League” — that group of three premiers that consolidated their power during the administration of former president Jacob Zuma — the province consistently delivered for the ruling party.
During the Zuma presidency, the province’s premier — Ace Magashule — solidified his own power, with allegations constantly linking this process to a network of patronage built by the man who is now the ANC’s secretary-general.
In 2013, investigative unit AmaBhungane revealed that the province had gifted a 4 400-hectare dairy farm to Estina — linked to the Gupta family — on a 99-year lease. Allegations of links to that controversial family have remained and only gained strength during the commission of inquiry on state capture.
Magashule helped to give Cyril Ramaphosa the presidency at the ANC’s electoral conference at Nascrec, in late 2017. In return, he became part of an uneasy Top 6 in the party. But since then there have been questions about his loyalty to the president, and to the attempts to clean up the ruling party.
For the Free State, Magashule’s rule left little in the way of service delivery.
In the eastern-most municipality of Phumela, for example, 25% of households don’t have access to electricity, 69% don’t have water inside their homes and 41% don’t have access to a flush toilet. The province as a whole also has the greatest number of people forced to use pit toilets.
Just 19% of people over the age of 20 have matric in Phumela, according to Statistics South Africa. Youth unemployment runs at an official 35%. But a similar number of people are listed as discouraged work seekers, so are not counted as unemployed.
The situation in the municipality is not unique. Voters have clearly used their mark to show how angry they are about this failure.