It’s hardly scientific to judge a political party’s prospects by the number of empty seats in stadiums at political rallies, but stadiumology owns a significant spot in South African public discourse as the country heads towards Aug. 3 elections.
Some stadiums were more packed than others when South Africa’s top three political parties — the ruling African National Congress, the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters — staged rallies in late April to unveil their manifestos in anticipation of the upcoming municipal polls.
When President Jacob Zuma introduced the ANC manifesto at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, there were “awkward swathes of empty seats,” Bloomberg reported. The stadium holds 46,000 people. Soweto’s Orlando Stadium outside Johannesburg was overflowing with Economic Freedom Fighter supporters, there to see former ANC youth leader Julius Malema. Seating capacity: 40,000.
Despite a drop in popularity, South Africa’s ruling African National Congress would still win if elections were held today, but with a much lower margin than in the past, according to public opinion surveys by Ghana-based Afrobarometer.
The ANC would receive 48 percent of support, down from 66 percent in 2004, according to survey respondents, DailyMaverick reported.
Three polls on political parties, elections and institutional trust show changing attitudes in South Africa but voters would still opt for ANC, according to Afrobarometer. Zuma, not so much. Respondents showed Zuma’s approval rating at 34 percent, a sharp drop from his 62 percent trust level recorded in 2011.
Survey results were based on interviews with 2,400 South Africans between August and September 2015.
The optimism is flagging that defined South Africa 22 years ago when it became a democracy. The ANC, the party that fought and ended apartheid, has seen protests over its failure to deliver basic services such as water and electricity, according to Bloomberg. Economic growth has fallen from 5 percent in 2004 to 2007, to less than 1 percent, projected for this year. This month the government said that unemployment was at 26.7 percent in the first quarter, the highest in at least eight years. Opposition parties disagree with a court ruling to drop almost 800 corruption charges against Zuma. Bloomberg reports:
“The ANC, the last of the iconic liberation movements, is falling in the trap of all of them,” says William Gumede, executive chairman of the African nonprofit Democracy Works Foundation. Political parties born out of liberation struggles often retain strong majorities during their early years in power for good reasons. Their supporters have deep and emotional ties to the organizations, and as the parties start to govern, there are credible excuses for them to take time to rebuild weak institutions. But voter loyalty also means such a party “can mess up for a while,” says Gumede. “People support it for much longer than they should.”
ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa criticized the public’s preoccupation with stadium seat counting at ANC events in an ANCToday column. But it’s nothing new, he said. Empty seats in stadiums, used “to extrapolate on the perceived decline of the (ANC), has been going on since 1994.”
Stadiumology was also at play during the Democratic Alliance’s rally. “Journalists crowed about how full the medium-sized Rand Stadium (seating capacity: 30,000) was,” Kodwa said, “again seemingly extrapolating these numbers into an indication of support nationally.”
In his critique of media coverage of the stadium seat counts, Kodwa said “with few exceptions, most media devoted scant space to unpacking the actual manifesto which outlines our plans ahead of the August poll.”
The ANC rules the majority of South Africa’s municipalities. Ahead of the local government election Aug. 3, AfricaCheck fact checked key claims in the 32-page ANC manifesto.
In it, the ANC made claims about its past performance in local electricity, water, sanitation, refuse removal, health, jobs, housing and corruption. AfricaCheck checked out 16 of the claims and concluded that 10 out of 16 were correct or mostly correct and six out of 16 were misleading, unproven or incorrect.
For example the ANC claimed correctly that the percentage of households connected to electricity supply increased from 69.7 percent in 2001 to 86 percent in 2014. This amounted to more than 5.8 million households in 2014.
But AfricaCheck said the ANC was misleading when it claimed that between 2001 and 2014, the percentage of households with access to piped water increased from 61.3 percent in 2001 to 90 percent in 2014. The 90 percent figure includes communal taps and neighbors’ taps, Stats SA’s General Household Survey shows. The ANC is not comparing apples to apples in its manifesto.
The claim is correct that average life expectancy increased from 53.4 years in 2004 to 62.5 years in 2015, according to AfricaCheck.
So is the claim that between 2004 and 2014, the government’s Expanded Public Works Programme created over 5 million work opportunities for poor and unemployed people.
But there’s no way to prove the claim that the ANC government started investigations in 203 corruption cases involving 1,065 people with 234 government officials convicted for corruption-related offences since 2014. This report will only be available to the public at the end of August 2016, after the elections.