Thursday, April 23, 2009

Last Chance For The ANC

The African National Congress is heading for another big victory in South Africa's general election. Despite being in power for 15 years, and a renewed challenge from opposition parties, the ANC and its newish leader Jacob Zuma is going to dominate the next parliament, although it may not quite get the two-thirds of the vote it needs to be able to change the country's constitution. No matter, it's still another huge mandate.

But this might be the last one the ANC gets. The party's dominance is based on the years it spent as a terrorist organisation, fighting South Africa's Apartheid rulers, and then on its early years in government in the 1990s when it was led by a man widely regarded as the closest thing we've got to a living saint, Nelson Mandela. Even though crime has been almost unbearably high under the ANC, the fact Mandela's administration managed the transition from the old Apartheid regime in a surprisingly smooth and peaceful fashion, has been enough to keep the party in power ever since.

However, Mr Zuma has a lot to do if he's to keep it that way. His predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, famously refused to recognise the link between HIV and AIDS, at least partly because his government couldn't afford to pay for the necessary drugs for all of South Africa's AIDS sufferers. Had he been standing again, he surely wouldn't have won this election as easily, but the electorate has chosen to give Mr Zuma a chance to tackle the big problems facing South Africa. Up to now, the ANC's lack of progress on AIDS, crime and other issues has been outweighed in the voters' minds by a lingering respect and affection for the party's history, and for its most famous leader. But that won't wash in future if Jacob Zuma doesn't start to make the country a better place to live. And with a World Cup to host next year, it won't just be South Africans taking an interest - the whole world will be watching too. Even in his moment of victory, Mr Zuma must know that the real hard work starts here.

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