By Michael Georgy
Sunday April 19 2009
South African opposition parties accused the ruling ANC of creating a culture of cronyism and corruption at closing rallies yesterday before a parliamentary election this week.
The African National Congress is almost certain to win Wednesday's election -- but the party still faces its biggest challenge since coming to power at the end of apartheid in 1994.
The main issue is whether it can retain the two-thirds parliamentary majority it needs to change the constitution, as it faces criticism over its track record on crime, poverty and AIDS.
The new breakaway Congress of the People (COPE) party, formed by ANC dissidents, hopes to tap into frustrations with ANC graft scandals.
State prosecutors have given the ANC a boost by dropping graft charges against party leader Jacob Zuma, whom the new parliament is certain to elect president.
His ANC has promised to do more to bring economically disadvantaged blacks into the mainstream economy through land reform and affirmative action programmes.
But Africa's biggest economy is on the brink of recession, and Zuma will be in a difficult position. Union allies are pushing him to spend more on the poor, while foreign investors fear he will steer the economy to the left.
COPE has changed the political landscape, but analysts say its chances of breaking the ANC's dominance have faded after an initial buzz.
"We dared to believe in the even greater hope that South Africa could soon become an equally prosperous, fair and just society," he said. "But soon our hopes were crushed by the harsh realities that some unscrupulous members of the ruling party and erroneous policies imposed on us all."
On Friday, the IFP accused the ANC of employing "terror tactics" and injuring 13 of its members in attacks ahead of the poll.
Critics say South Africa has effectively become a one-party state because people vote for parties, not individuals, giving the ANC an enormous advantage.
"That's how the closed, crony society for comrades works. It's about making a few people rich and everyone else poor," said Zille.
- Michael Georgy