'Born Frees' Prepare To Vote In South Africa

May 6, 2014
Originally published on May 7, 2014 11:26 am

South Africans head to the polls Wednesday for general elections. The African National Congress is likely to take a majority of the vote, despite pervasive unemployment and a recent corruption scandal involving President Jacob Zuma, explains the BBC's Audrey Brown.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Millions of South Africans will go to the polls tomorrow. It's the first vote since the death of Nelson Mandela, the country's first democratically-elected president. It's also the first time that those born after the end of apartheid will be able to vote. These young voters are known as Born Frees. And this election is raising questions about whether democracy has delivered for South Africa.

BBC reporter Audrey Brown is in South Africa to cover the election and she joins us more to talk more about this. Welcome to the program.

AUDREY BROWN: Thank you very much, Melissa.

BLOCK: And how would you describe the legacy of Nelson Mandela overshadowing this election and the prospect of his part at the African National Congress?

BROWN: I don't think his legacy overshadows the election but it's definitely present. It's our fifth democratic election since 1994, when he became president. He died in December and in the ANC right now is playing in a way with his legacy by telling people to Do it for Madiba. Do it for Mandela because this is the freedom that he promised. This is the freedom that he delivered. But it's double-edged, that, because people look at the ANC now and say, well, actually, the ANC that is governing the country now and has been governing for the last five years is not exactly the ANC that Nelson Mandela bequeathed.

BLOCK: When you talk to voters and if they express discontent with the African National Congress, with corruption in their country, do they see an alternative? Are they turning to any of the opposition parties as a better option for their future?

BROWN: The Democratic Alliance, which is the main opposition party in South Africa, believes that it does offer an alternative. There are other parties that campaign directly on the issue of corruption. The problem with that is that corruption is a huge problem in South Africa, yes. Poverty though, and inequality are even bigger problems. But if you are very poor, very hungry and very tired of waiting for a house or very tired of waiting for proper schools for your child, you're going to be more concerned with those kinds of issues rather than whether or not the president is accused of using state money improperly.

BLOCK: We should mention that Jacob Zuma's embroiled in a corruption scandal. It has to do with upgrades made to his house. Any number of things that President Zuma has run into trouble on. Is it affecting his standing as South Africans head to the polls?

BROWN: The ANC claims that Jacob Zuma is incredibly popular and, like, one in 1000 people raises this issue. In fact, the president said on Monday that it's only clever, bright people who raise this issue, you know, but on the doorstep people don't raise this issue with him. Of course, it's the one thing that very many South Africans, through social media, through talk shows, all over the place, people are definitely angry about it. They are.

BLOCK: I mentioned the Born Free generation, the young voters, first-time voters who have grown up in the post-apartheid era. Do they approach this election differently, do you think? Are you hearing a much different perspective from them than you might from older South Africans?

BROWN: I hear analysts saying that. But I think that South Africans are still very aware of how difficult the struggle was - young and old South Africans. People remember stories, you know, of the fact that riches were stolen from South Africans, land was stolen from South Africans. So those things are not necessarily attached to the ANC for the younger Born Free generation. So I think where the divergence comes is whether or not they will be sentimental about the ANC.

BLOCK: That's the BBC's Audrey Brown. She is covering tomorrow's elections in South Africa and joined us from Polokwane. Miss Brown, thanks so much.

BROWN: Thank you very, very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.