In South Africa Elections, A.N.C. Can’t Count on Black Middle-Class Voters

Tuesday - 07/05/2019 09:22
President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, center, campaigning ahead of Wednesday’s election.CreditCreditJoao Silva/The New York Times
President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, center, campaigning ahead of Wednesday’s election.CreditCreditJoao Silva/The New York Times
In a country where blacks make up 90 percent of the total population of 58 million, the black middle class has reached 5.6 million people, according the Unilever Institute for Strategic Marketing at the University of Cape Town — though other experts estimate the number is lower.

CHANTELLE, South Africa — Ahead of the general elections on Wednesday in South Africa, Josiah Tsheko found himself in a category now familiar to members of the nation’s growing black middle class: the undecided voter.

He liked the president, Cyril Ramaphosa, a former business tycoon and the leader of the long-governing African National Congress party. But as Mr. Tsheko oversaw workers who were adding an extension to his ranch-style house on a recent morning, he said he had deep misgivings about the party itself.

“My friends like Cyril — I also do,” said Mr. Tsheko, 42, a human resources manager at a mining company. “Remember, the guy knows business. The problem is the guy is surrounded by the party mafia.”

The A.N.C., the party that was led by Nelson Mandela and helped free black South Africans, is all but certain to garner the most votes nationally in the election, ensuring that Mr. Ramaphosa will win a five-year term as South Africa’s president.

But whether enough black middle-class voters return to the A.N.C. will help determine the party’s margin of victory — and, more important, whether Mr. Ramaphosa gets the strong mandate to carry out his push against corruption and efforts to clean up his own party.

Sybil Louw, a retired nurse, was a lifelong supporter of the A.N.C., but stopped registering to vote in 2014.CreditJoao Silva/The New York Times

Nearly as significant, the political fate of Gauteng — the nation’s richest province, home to Johannesburg and Pretoria as well as the biggest concentration of black middle-class voters — rests on how they will cast their ballots.

The loss of Gauteng would be a big blow to the A.N.C., which lost control over the nation’s second richest province, the Western Cape, a decade ago. It would increasingly transform the A.N.C. into a party dependent on poor urban and rural voters — the people over whom it holds sway through social benefits and patronage.

“It’s the A.N.C.’s last chance to hold the middle class, and certainly in Gauteng,” said David Everatt, head of the Wits School of Governance at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

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 Keywords: South Africa

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