Punishing the Party of Mandela? Expert Views on South Africa’s Election

The African National Congress, the party of the great liberator Nelson Mandela, has governed South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994. But over the past decade, the party's corruption and incompetence have sabotaged growth and opportunity, particularly for South Africa's huge youth population. The party's current leader, President Cyril Ramaphosa, has pledged to clean it up and today, voters in South Africa's national elections will show whether they believe him.

We sat down with South African analysts Pietr Du Toit and Mpumi Mkhabela, separately, to discuss a pivotal moment in the country's politics.


1. What are you watching for in this year's election?

PDT: The most important thing to look for is whether or not the African National Congress, our governing party, is punished for the last nine years of corruption – "state capture" as we call it – that's occurred under their watch.

The ANC has been on a downward trajectory since the 2004 election. So today we expect them to win, but with a continued decline in in their support. I will be looking for the premium that the electorate has put on corruption. How much did it cost them?

2. How does Mandela's legacy hang over this year's election?

MM: The majority of South Africans still recognize him as an eminent leader, as a father figure, a moral icon. However, younger people don't have the same sentimental attachment to the liberation struggle as their parent.

In addition, opposition leaders try to neutralize the advantage the ANC receives through its association with Mandela by claiming him for themselves. So the ANC doesn't enjoy an exclusive advantage by appropriating his legacy.

3. Which voters do you expect to abandon the ruling ANC?

MM: I think the middle class will be prepared to give Ramaphosa a chance. But among the extreme poor there are two groups. There's a group that may be willing to shift votes to the far-left opposition Economic Freedom Fighters. This a group in which many were born after 1994 and has little appreciation for the ANC's role in bringing an end to apartheid. They have typically graduated from university but are struggling to find jobs.

The second group isn't prepared to embrace an alternative to the ANC, because it's the only party they've ever known.

4. What's the biggest challenge for (ANC leader) Cyril Ramaphosa if he wins?

PDT: Ramaphosa in my mind has two choices—either save the state by cleaning up government, or save the ANC. The two are mutually exclusive.

If he decides to rid the state of graft, it means he's going to have to cut off patronage networks within his party, which will put him under enormous internal pressure.

If however he opts for unity of the party as the overriding ambition and focus, he's going to have to keep the patronage networks intact, which means that grand corruption as we've seen over the last nine years will continue.

* The exchange has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity

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This Saturday, July 20, will mark the 50-year anniversary of the day a human being first stepped onto another world. A moment born out of Cold War political pressures, it's easy to forget a half century later how much bitter controversy the project provoked at home and the intensity of the worldwide fanfare that followed its success.

The moon mission's primary purpose was to defeat the Soviet Union. By the time John Kennedy became president in 1961, the Soviet Union had advanced far ahead of the United States in the race for achievement in space. In October 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, the world's first satellite. A month later, a dog named Laika became the first living creature to travel beyond Earth's atmosphere. In April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth, the first human to do so.

In early May, Alan Shepard became the first American in space, spurring Kennedy to announce a far more ambitious plan. On May 25, Kennedy famously pledged that by the end of the decade Americans would go to the moon and return safely to the Earth.

Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, but new President Lyndon Johnson quickly signaled his intention to see the promise kept. The Soviets held their space lead through 1965, by landing an unmanned craft on the Moon.

The moon mission stoked controversy in the United States. A review of polls reveals that only in 1969 did a majority of Americans support the project. Many people argued that the billions spent on a moonshot should go toward the war in Vietnam or to fight poverty in America's inner cities. "No hot water, no toilets, no lights. But Whitey's on the moon," sang musician and activist Gil Scott Heron. It didn't help when a fire during the Apollo 1 mission killed three astronauts and destroyed their space module.

But when Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the moon on July 20, 1969, the event took on a life of its own. It was a decade framed by two images of respected TV anchorman Walter Cronkite—shaken to the core on air by the 1963 murder of President Kennedy and then speechless with awe as Americans bounded across the surface of the moon.

A decade that included confrontation with the Soviets in Cuba, the assassinations of John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, a failing war in Vietnam, race riots in American cities, and violent chaos at the 1968 Democratic Party convention ended with an accomplishment a quarter million miles away, that was watched live by 94 percent of Americans who owned a TV.

Americans weren't the only ones watching. About 650 million people around the world watched the moon landing live on TV, making the event the first truly global televised event. Nine weeks later, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins began a world tour.

Concerns that planting an American flag on the moon's surface would seem an act of obnoxious nationalism faded as the three men were greeted by overflow crowds in 27 cities in 24 countries over 39 days. An estimated one million people greeted them in Dhaka (then Pakistan) and some 1.5 million turned out in Mumbai (then Bombay).

Fifty years later, moon missions are still a mark of national prestige. Russia, China, India, the EU, Japan, and Israel have all sent probes to orbit the Moon or landed vehicles on its surface. But none of them matches that first "giant leap for mankind."

Next up: Mars? For thoughts on the next space race, click here.

Bonus fact: An iPhone has more than 100,000 times the processing power of the computer that landed Apollo 11 on the moon.