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?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
News
i100
Sport
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Sport
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review