Johannesburg – South Africa is due to hold parliamentary and provincial elections on Wednesday, amid frustration with a lack of progress 25 years after the ANC swept to power at the end of apartheid.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, who took over from scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma as ANC leader in December 2017, is trying to restore faith in the governing party after a torrid decade under Zuma during which its image suffered.
The ANC has won every parliamentary election since 1994 but saw its share of the vote fall from a high of more than 69 percent in 2004 to 62 percent in 2014, as economic growth faltered and corruption scandals multiplied.
It is expected to secure another parliamentary majority this week, but analysts predict that majority could fall, despite Ramaphosa’s efforts to clean up the party’s image.
Here are some of the key issues at the elections.
Land is a highly emotive issue in South Africa, where the bulk of productive agricultural land has remained in white hands since the end of apartheid in 1994. A farm industry group and government argue over exactly how much land is in black hands.
That land was forcibly taken from black people during the colonial and apartheid eras.
Despite ploughing money into state-backed land transfer initiatives, the ANC government failed to meet its target of transferring 30 percent of commercial farmland to black hands by 2014, which fuelled unrest by communities living in squalid shanty towns demanding better housing and services.
Under pressure from the EFF and more radical elements in the ANC, Ramaphosa last year launched a process to change the constitution to make explicit provision for land expropriation without compensation.
Ramaphosa has moved to allay investor fears that any constitutional changes will result in Zimbabwe-style land grabs or hurt food output. But Ramaphosa, if he is returned to power, would need to strike a balance between policies that help quell simmering discontent among the black majority without derailing a struggling economy.
Years of corruption scandals implicating senior party officials and government ministers have sullied the ANC’s reputation and could prove costly on May 8 as opposition parties target malfeasance as a key pillar of their election campaigns.
A state corruption inquiry has heard evidence that associates of former president Zuma siphoned off huge sums from state tenders. Zuma has consistently denied wrongdoing.
But the rot is not confined to the upper echelons of power, having seeped through to provincial and municipal authorities.
The country has some of the worst unemployment levels among major emerging market economies, trapping millions of people in poverty and spurring violent protests.
Around 27 percent of South Africans were unemployed in the fourth quarter last year, according to a narrow definition of unemployment. Among young black people the jobless rate is one in two.
The three main political parties have all put job creation at the heart of their campaigns.
Ramaphosa called a jobs summit last year, where he vowed to create 275 000 more jobs a year.
That is an ambitious target. A number of companies in the mining sector alone, which is one of the biggest employers in the economy, have announced thousands of job cuts in the past year. State firms and government departments also plan to reduce their headcount, mainly through severance packages and hiring freezes.
Economic growth has slowed sharply in recent years, stretching public finances and sparking fierce disagreements over the direction of economic policy.
In the decade before the global financial crisis, gross domestic product (GDP) growth averaged around 4 percent.
But in the past decade it slowed to below 2 percent, which is insufficient to make a meaningful dent in poverty and is among the lowest among emerging markets.
Policy uncertainty during Zuma’s tenure and a worsening fiscal picture led to credit rating downgrades to "junk" status and deterred much-needed investment by foreign and local companies.
Trust in state electricity firm Eskom among ordinary South Africans and investors is low as it struggles to keep the lights on and grapples with a severe financial crisis.
The past year has seen regular bouts of "load-shedding," a local term for scheduled power cuts, for the first time since 2015 as Eskom has faced recurring problems at its creaking fleet of coal-fired power stations.
Eskom has high debt levels, with its R420 billion debt mountain equal to more than 8 percent of the country’s GDP.
Ramaphosa has made reforming Eskom a priority, overseeing the appointment of a new board of directors, pledging restructuring and promising a R23 billion a year bailout over the next three years.
But energy experts say that isn’t enough to make Eskom financially sustainable in the long term. The highest levels of government are discussing additional financial support measures for Eskom.