A month before South Africa’s May 7 elections, the country’s fifth national election since the end of apartheid, Ronnie Kasrils, a longtime leader in the ruling liberation party, the African National Congress, launched “Sidikwe! Vukani! We Are Fed Up! ” (also referred to as Sidikwe! Vukani! Vote No!). The campaign called on South Africans to vote tactically—either vote for a minority party or spoil their ballots. Whomever South Africans voted for, the campaign argued, it shouldn’t be the ANC.
That a senior member of the party would call on South Africans to vote for any party but the ANC within months of Nelson Mandela’s death shocked some outside observers. But from within South Africa, Kasril’s cry was not unexpected. The ANC has governed the country since 1994, and twenty years into democracy, is the target of widespread discontent. President Jacob Zuma, elected in 2009, keeps the country’s journalists busy with tales of corruption, incompetence and outright criminality. He has been linked to billions in bribes used in a 1999 national arms deal (which is still being investigated), and in 2005 he was charged with raping a family friend (he was found not guilty). In the latest scandal, Zuma spent millions in government funds to upgrade his personal residence.
Zuma’s alleged corruption is just one of the ANC’s woes. In August 2012, South African police killed dozens of miners after they went on strike to demand roughly $1,200 in monthly wages. Today, in the longest strike in South Africa’s history, 70,000 miners continue to strike to demand higher wages. Labor relations in most sectors are worsening, particularly as businesses seek to undermine unions by working with agencies that provide casual labor. Up to 40 percent of South Africans are unemployed, and protests are a common occurrence as citizens demand more economic opportunities and better access to basic services like roads, transport, water, electricity and healthcare. Post-apartheid South Africa is one of the most economically unequal countries in the world.
To Kasrils, today’s ANC is not the ANC he fought for. “This ANC is diametrically opposed to the ANC that was able to have the capacity and the moral high ground to maximize the unity of the people from the divergent backgrounds we come from, “ he said in an interview with the Sunday Independent. “In many respects the ANC still trades on its struggle credentials and the victory it helped bring about in 1994. Could this ANC, Zuma’s ANC, have brought down apartheid?”
Despite receiving support from other ANC stalwarts like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Sidikwe! was attacked by leading ANC members. Writing in The Star on election day, Public Service Minister Lindiwe Sisulu called Kasrils’s and his campaign “amateurish,” “ignorant” and “juvenile,” claiming, “[Kasrils] has chosen the path of cheap populism and criminality as his way of getting back at the ANC for denying him access to the fat-cat perquisites he so fondly longs for.” (Her comments do not seem to indicate that she understands that it is this “fat cat” lifestyle that many voters, Kasrils included, condemn).