South African President Jacob Zuma launches his African National Congress’s election manifesto on Saturday in Port Elizabeth, where the party risks losing an important local poll in August.
Losing power in Nelson Mandela Bay municipality would be doubly embarrassing for Zuma and his party since the area was a stronghold of the ANC’s fight against apartheid and later named after its greatest liberation hero.
The president has faced calls to resign from within the ANC since a court ruled this month that he breached the constitution by ignoring an order to repay some of the $16 million in state funds spent renovating his private home.
Zuma survived an impeachment vote last week thanks to the ANC’s big majority in the 400-seat national assembly and hopes to now put the scandal behind him. He is required by law to step down in 2019 after two five-year terms.
An Ipsos poll late last year suggested a very tight race in Mandela Bay, with the ANC winning only 43 percent of the vote against 42 percent for the combined opposition parties and 15 percent of undecided voters.
“This would be an extremely symbolic victory or loss for the ANC,” said Joleen Steyn-Kotze, professor at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
“Should the ANC lose, it would send a very strong message nationally that within its own heartland and stronghold, people are losing faith in its ability to deliver.”
In the 2011 local poll in Mandela Bay, where Port Elizabeth is the largest city, the ANC won 52 percent of the vote against 40 percent for the main opposition Democratic Alliance.
Local governments manage large budgets and will be able to influence voters ahead of a presidential election in 2019.
The constitutional court ruling against Zuma and subsequent splits within the ANC may have eroded its support base further since the Ipsos poll was taken, analysts say.
Many South Africans are angry at corruption in the ANC and feel the liberation movement has not done enough to help lift people out of poverty. Unemployment still runs at over 25 percent and the economy is on the brink of recession.
Zuma will likely remind voters this weekend of the ANC’s bruising struggle to end white-minority rule and its efforts to tackle inequality between blacks and whites since Nelson Mandela swept to power in 1994.
Fighting corruption, creating jobs and improving service delivery are likely to feature heavily among the ANC’s pledges.
“The Eastern Cape occupies a proud place as the political home of the ANC and the epicentre of the struggle for freedom,” ANC Secretary-General Gwede Manthase told reporters on Friday.
“In our interaction with the people they continued to demonstrate the utmost confidence in the ANC while acknowledging weaknesses and challenges in some areas.”