Thabo's vote of many colours

Alex Duval Smith watches the ANC prepare for victory in the second election since apartheid ended

YELLOW, green and black - the colours of the African National Congress - dominated a Durban stadium yesterday in what seemed more like a victory rally for Thabo Mbeki, the South African president-to-be, than a pitch for the country's estimated three million undecided voters in Wednesday's election, the second since the end of apartheid.

The choice of the Indian Ocean port for the ANC's penultimate rally, dubbed "Siyanqoba" (we are winning), was the latest signal of the ruling party's confidence that it has mastered the challenge from the Inkatha Freedom Party, formerly dominant in KwaZulu-Natal.

In the run-up to the first all-race elections, in 1994, clashes between ANC and IFP supporters claimed hundreds of lives in the province. This time, 23,000 security troops have been deployed and free campaigning has been possible virtually everywhere. The IFP's leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who is also Home Affairs Minister and has a good relationship with Mr Mbeki, has even been heard to shout "Viva ANC" at his own rallies. The two parties signed a peace pact earlier this month and have tested it in former no-go areas by campaigning side-by-side - sending a powerful signal that intimidation tactics by warlords, chiefs and party agents are unacceptable.

The Durban rally came at the end of three weeks of intense campaigning by 26 parties, 16 of which are competing for the national vote. The campaign has been remarkable for grassroots calm, the display of the ANC'S extraordinary financial resources, an excess of slogans and a lack of focused debate.

The ANC, boosted by a $20m (pounds 12.5m) donation from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, will win up to two-thirds of the national vote and at least seven out of South Africa's nine provinces. Consequently, it has confidently left the opposition parties - none of which, singly, can hope for more than 10 or 12 per cent of the vote - to scrap over issues such as South Africa's 35 per cent unemployment rate and its rampant crime.

The ruling party, instead, has concentrated on swamping the country with millions of posters, T-shirts and caps. It has also showed a preference for rabble-rousing rallies over question-and-answer sessions.

On the road 10 days ago in the rural Transkei, Mr Mbeki's birthplace and that of a host of leaders of the struggle against apartheid, Nelson Mandela's anointed successor spent the morning briefly reaching for the elusive populist in himself. Born nearly 57 years ago in the Transkei hills, he is nevertheless distant from his roots as a result of boarding school, Sussex University and exile.

During a day which included a visit to his ancestral village, a helicopter drop-in on his mother and a meeting with local business people, Mr Mbeki tried hard to look casual. But the ANC polo shirt just did not go with his navy blue suit. He looked ill at ease with the sheep, slaughtered for him by the elders, and the traditional sorghum beer he was expected to stir.

The evening meeting in the city of Umtata was easier for him as he invited questions from the floor which focused on corruption and inefficiency in the Eastern Cape provincial government. Mr Mbeki was shocked - "We did not win freedom for people to play cards on their computers", he said - and promised to look into the problem.

But while the audience took him on trust, his visit to the Eastern Cape, of which the old Transkei homeland is part, was not a success. The ANC government has neglected this impoverished region almost as badly as did the old apartheid regime. The shepherds and peasant women among its rolling hills feel abandoned by their own sons.

Mr Mbeki had to enlist President Mandela and all the other Xhosa royal blood within the ANC - including the charismatic Winnie Madikizela-Mandela - to travel from village to village, gently coaxing traditional chiefs to back the ruling party. The ANC has brought the chiefs on to the government payroll but these kings and queens who dominate rural life are not all convinced.

"It is sometimes difficult to get the ANC to understand," said Mr Mbeki, "that over many decades of struggle it became urban-based and is relatively insensitive to rural questions... with what has been done it is not possible not to do better." That mea culpa goes a long way towards explaining the ANC's paranoia about parties which appeal to a similar support base and are better at attracting the rural vote.

In the Eastern Cape the rival is called the United Democratic Movement. Its leader, Bantu Holomisa, is a local chief and former ANC cabinet member who was expelled from the ruling party after alleging President Mandela had accepted illicit party funding. His deputy, Roelf Meyer, is a white former National Party minister. This makes the UDM the only opposition party whose appeal is not racially based. It could have surprising success nationally, because it also appeals to members of the Indian community and Afrikaners.

The Western Cape is ruled by the former party of apartheid, now called the New National Party, which wants the return of the death penalty and tells its Coloured (mixed-race) supporters in the townships that the ANC just favours blacks.

Some opinion polls have put the ANC and the NNP neck and neck in the Cape. But South African polls are often out of date, and the province has a huge number of undecided voters. An unknown factor is the support for the Democratic Party, which appeals to wealthy whites.

These regions have seen the most active electioneering, on issues affecting the provincial ballot rather than the national vote. Many South Africans say they intend to split their vote; it is not inconceivable, for example, that a Coloured person in the Western Cape will vote for the ANC nationally and for the law-and-order policies of the NNP provincially.

One of the most striking aspects of the pre-election period - even prompting some of the media to dismiss it as boring - has been the lack of violence. In the run-up to the 1994 election, 10 people were killed each day in KwaZulu-Natal, bombs were exploding and there was endless talk of white right-wing plots.

Dull for the media, perhaps, but the impatience of young South Africans to cast their votes and be part of the democratic process is chastening for observers from Europe or the US.

And at the end of it all, South Africa will set off for a further five years, probably with a strengthened ANC whose politicians will have, briefly, met the people. Mr Mbeki - an intellectual with a big vision of an African Renaissance - will offer a different style from President Mandela's rainbow of hope. But the substance will be similar, just packaged less affably.

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
Louis van Gaal at the Hawthorns prior to Manchester United's game against West Brom
football

Follow the latest updates from the Monday night Premier League fixture

News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Concerns raised phenomenon is threatening resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past