South African Elections / Commentary: Why there was no real contest against the Mandela factor

TWO and a half years ago a British politics professor visiting Johannesburg succumbed to the old journalistic cop-out and sounded out his taxi-driver.

He was, to be fair, an interesting taxi-driver. He belonged to the Zion Christian Church, which has made a virtue of shunning political engagement. In those days, F W de Klerk entertained the hope that the two million-strong ZCC would provide his National Party with a window into the black vote.

The professor asked the driver: 'Will you vote for the National Party?'

'No, Sir.'

'Will you vote for Inkatha?'

'No, Sir.'

'Will you vote for the ANC?'

'No, sir.'

'So, who will you vote for?'

'I will vote for Mandela.'

I've quoted that little exchange often in response to people who have asked me whether the ANC would really clean up the black vote when the time came. The ANC in itself without Nelson Mandela is a mightily potent force. The initials echo with historical resonance. But, heavily politicised as many blacks inevitably are, there are many who have never attended a political rally, who are not consumed by the great questions of the day, who concentrate their energies on getting by from day to day.

Evidently the ZCC taxi-driver lived up to his word. Everything indicates that the overwhelming majority of the black population has voted for Mandela.

Yesterday afternoon I went out to the main counting-station for the greater Johannesburg area and learnt unofficially, from international observers, that the ANC had picked up more than 90 per cent in Soweto, South Africa's biggest township, and similar proportions in smaller townships on the periphery like Duduza and KwaThema.

Were it not for the Mandela factor the ANC might have scored 10, maybe 20, per cent fewer votes and Mr de Klerk's dream that blacks would forgive and forget the past, might have yielded something of substance at the polls. The Pan-Africanist Congress, which peaked politically in the early Sixties, might have gained from black people dredging up the memory of the past.

But Mr Mandela, at 75, is the present. He is the living legend - and there is no more important factor in an election - the best- known name in South Africa. Independent of his merits, the fact is that black people revere him.

Mr de Klerk, against that, had no chance. Likewise the PAC, which, it is now clear, will struggle to garner 2 per cent. A lot of white pollsters, perhaps giving vent to the fears generated by the PAC's 'one settler, one bullet' slogan, had predicted they would do better. Eminent academics had predicted 10 per cent. But that was a function, partly, of not spending enough time in the townships. I've travelled to more than I can remember and have found it unusual to come across a PAC supporter, much less a functioning PAC office.

There are three principal reasons for the PAC's failure to attract support for their version of the liberation struggle. First, their leader, Clarence Makwetu, has the charisma of an ox. Second, they are abysmally lacking in funds and organisation. Third has been the readiness with which their tiny armed wing has claimed responsibility for the handful of racist attacks on whites in the past two years, notably the massacre at St James' Church in Cape Town, which is further confirmation of the distaste with which most black South Africans view those who try to make political capital out of racial antagonism.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific