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cc In this special edition of Pambazuka News, Sanusha Naidu sets out the background to the upcoming South African election and introduces the wide array of perspectives informing this week's articles. While some commentators have chosen to emphasise the changing nature of the ANC's (African National Congress) political dominance and the party's current difficulties, others have focused on the ultimate absence of genuine liberation for South Africa's poor majority some 15 years after the historic 1994 election. With some calling for the 2009 election to be boycotted entirely, the contributors to this issue share a common desire to offer piercing analysis and powerful insights into South Africa's political landscape as the country approaches voting day on 22 April.

In less than a week South Africa will be holding its fourth democratic election. The voting has already begun, with approximately 7,000 South Africans living abroad casting their votes on 15 April 2009. With expectations running high and election fever gripping the country, most commentators and political parties would agree with Roger Southall’s assessment that the 2009 election is ‘the most fluid and unpredictable in South Africa since 1994’.

While debates rage around whether the ANC will retain its two-thirds majority, an ANC is victory is most surely guaranteed. Yet in the run-up to the 22 April election, the South African political landscape has become the scene of one of Shakespeare’s polemic interpretations of power, greed and gerrymandering, which some would even call a Greek tragedy.

The dramatic shifts of internal dissent and hostilities between the Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma camps started with Zuma being relieved of his position as deputy president in 2005. This resulted from an allegedly corrupt relationship with his financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, around the multimillion rand arms deal, a deal which the former National Prosecuting Authority boss, Bulelani Ngcuka, termed as having ‘prima facie evidence’ for but was unwilling to go court. This then spiralled into President Mbeki losing his popular appeal and being challenged by his detractors in the party and its alliance partners, COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) and SACP (South African Communist Party), before finally culminating in Mbeki being recalled by the party as president of South Africa following a ruling which inferred that Zuma’s corruption charges were politically motivated (because according to some rationale he was deployed by the party and therefore accountable to the party).

But perhaps the final triumph for the Zuma camp was the dropping of the corruption charges by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) last week after hearing ‘compelling’ evidence that the former Scorpions boss, Leonard McCarthy, was being unduly influenced by the Mbeki administration. And so what started in 2005 as Mbeki’s moment of truth in fighting corruption and perhaps marking his legacy as president has come full circle, with Jacob Zuma being characterised as the sacrificial lamb who chose to challenge a president out of touch with his people and party and bent on acquiring more power through any means. Conceivably then, the fact that Zuma feels vindicated by the NPA decision is not altogether amiss. Although one should bear in mind that Zuma has not defended his innocence in a court of law or had the merits of the evidence that his legal team presented to the NPA tested by the judicial system. And so his vindication remains controversial to say the least.

As the majority of South Africans make their way to the polls next week, this is the crossroads in which South Africa finds itself. It's hard to tell what effect this will have or how it will influence the voting behaviour of ordinary South Africans next week. And most commentators are betting that it will not.

In this special edition of Pambazuka News on the upcoming 2009 South African election, we delve into some of the critical issues that voters will be considering as they go to the polls next week. As the lead analysis, Adam Habib’s commentary on substantive uncertainty captures some of the salient issues that underscore South Africa’s political landscape. None is so important as the issue of a viable parliamentary opposition and whether the Congress of the People, formed from the rib of the ANC following Mbeki’s resignation, will actually provide a substantive alternative to the ANC. Roger Southall complements the latter by arguing that the internal factionalism within the ANC has created signs that the ANC’s hegemony at the polls is crumbling, something which could be interpreted as a good indicator of democratic competition and pluralism.

This is followed by two significant articles focusing on gender mainstreaming among political party manifestoes. With more than half of the electorate being women, Liepollo Lebohang Pheko raises a vital question of whether the South African election advances women’s citizenship and agency. She proceeds to answer the question by examining the election manifestoes of the main political parties and concludes by asking ‘Could 22 April be the opportunity to claim back both the substance of women’s citizenship and the ballot box?'

On the other hand, Lisa Vetten and Sally Shackleton highlight that political parties have failed to develop concrete strategies that mitigate violence against women. Their argument is based on what they argue is an increase in the level of violent attacks against women, despite initiatives to promote public awareness.

Finally, two additional articles by Andile Mngxitama and Dale McKinley draw on the crucial issues facing South Africa’s poor, dispossessed and economically marginalised, asking whether the negotiated political settlement has led to fundamental economic emancipation. While Mngxitama makes a compelling argument that South Africa’s 15 years of freedom have not achieved real liberation, contending that the nature of transformation has not significantly transformed power relations within the state or afforded the true redistribution of wealth, McKinley offers a sobering analysis of the state’s neoliberal economic policy and the anti-privatisation and daily social justice struggles. He concludes with a bold call to boycott the 2009 election.

We hope that the wide array of articles in this special edition will offer readers insight into the political, social and economic issues currently facing ordinary South Africans. As we make our way to vote on 22 April, those among South Africa’s economically indigent participating in the vote will hope that their cross will lead to effective governance and a better life for all.

* Sanusha Naidu is the research director of Fahamu's China in Africa programme. She is also an independent political analyst who is part of the SABC’s (South African Broadcasting Corporation) 2009 election analyst panel.
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