ANC's popularity still strong

Despite corruption allegations against Jacob Zuma, poor South Africans have not given up on Mandela's party

If the all-powerful ANC is to be humbled at the ballot box when South Africa votes on Wednesday, it ought to be a message sent from somewhere like the Elias Motsoaledi settlement.

A slum, named after a hero of the apartheid struggle, it is cast in the shadow of Soweto's iconic chimneys.

The 50,000 inhabitants live on unpaved streets of broken promises.

The new South Africa of public housing, just like the electricity pylons, has passed by these tin shacks.

Its toilet blocks do not flush, there is no running water and no school.

Yet there is an inconvenient truth for those hoping that Jacob Zuma's certain victory will be soured by a heavily reduced majority.

If there is a protest vote coming that will stop the African National Congress winning the two-thirds majority it craves in two days' time, it's not coming from Elias Motsoaledi.

The signs of dissent may be everywhere, with rivals to the ANC smiling down from myriad posters. Last week, hundreds of residents marched on their local councillor's office in response to rumours that their land – to which they hold no title – had been sold out from under them.

However, there are more opposition posters than opposition voters here.

For residents like Soloman Rampai the equation remains simple: "The people are the ANC. The ANC will always win the elections."

Unemployed, like most of his neighbours, he has plenty of time to think, and sounds even more tired of the corruption saga that has pursued the ANC leader than does the 67-year-old poltician himself.

"They have spent hundreds of millions of rand and they found him guilt of nothing," he says. "There is too much concentration on corruption."

Opinion polls suggest the ANC may fall narrowly short of the margin of victory that would allow it to change the constitution at will. Two recent surveys gave the party 65 and 60 per cent of the vote respectively.

But the same polls illuminate something that much of the outside world fails to see – most ordinary people are not overly concerned with the endless corruption charges.

Far from being an electoral liability for the ANC, the Zulu showman is recognised as the "Presidentertainer" as one popular newspaper dubbed him this weekend.

The man himself emphasised his own relaxed approach to the final steps on his tortured journey to State House by asking "How can I be stressed? There is no word for stress in Zulu."

"They say if you can't beat them, join them," says 30-year-old Xolisa Gogwana, a builder by trade but a tourist guide by necessity.

"You can't beat the ANC, so..."

As for his view of the country's president in waiting: "Zuma's part entertainer, part president," he adds with a smile.

The streetfighter who won his titanic struggle with predecessor Thabo Mbeki, despite seven years of courtroom battles, is viewed with more affection than the man he defeated.

In the local Shebeen, or drinking den, Pina Gordon echoes the sentiments of many when he says the former deputy president must get his chance at last. "We must give him a year. They have promised us many things and after a year we will see." Past failures, he says, "can't be blamed on the ANC".

That is exactly what Patrick Ntlali is trying to do though. Sitting in the back of an antique red Nissan he is campaigning in the slum for the minority United Democratic Movement.

"It's hard work," he admits. "These [ANC] people have a long time in power, they have all the money. If you get deeper and ask these people what the ANC has done for them? They follow them just for the money."

Money has certainly played a part in the campaign with the breakaway Congress of the People (Cope) spurring the ANC to spend R200m (£15m) on this campaign.

Not everyone is convinced.

Neliswa Chwayi, a mother of two, says she isn't voting for anyone. Fifteen years after the end of apartheid there is one tap per street and one metal pit toilet per house where she lives. Too many promises have been broken, she says.

In the wealthier surrounds of Soweto's Orlando East, where Nelson Mandela's old home is now a museum these concerns feel less urgent.

"The ANC isn't just a party, it's a culture," says Simtha Mlawu a young musician who was still in high school in 1994. "The ANC isn't Mbeki. The ANC isn't Zuma."

It is Madiba though, as Mr Mandela is known here. Madiba is thought to get on well with "JZ", and after the frosty, paranoid Mbeki years that's enough for many people.

His appearance at the last ANC rally before the election yesterday only served to ram home the point.

"Madiba has influence over JZ," says Mlawu. "Even now I'd expect Madiba to be having a say behind the scenes."

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