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South Africa elections Wednesday, 2 June, 1999, 18:00 GMT 19:00 UK
The overmighty ANC?
South Africa posters
Multi-party elections - but a one-party state?
By Africa Correspondent Jane Standley

South African Elections
A catchy campaign song helps a party in any election. It is even better when sung for you by the most popular artist in the country.

"Clear the way, here comes Thabo" sings Brenda Fassie for the ANC.

The party certainly intends to clear the way for Thabo Mbeki, the man set to be the next president of the country, by campaigning for a two-thirds majority in the new parliament. This would enable it to make constitutional changes, should it wish, without consulting other parties.

And analysts are pointing to one thing the ANC may like to change in the constitution - a clause it has always opposed - the restriction on two terms for a President.

The promises are carefully vague - only that life will change this time for the poor majority.

But Matata Tsedu, a respected black journalist and commentator says it may be enough:

"There isn't a viable alternative which would be pushing the transformation agenda. It almost becomes inescapable not to vote for the ANC - so they may get their two-thirds. "

Domestic and international concern at the quest for the two-thirds majority seems to have prompted a recent change in the ANC's use of language.

They have started requesting only a strong mandate from the electorate.

But - wording aside - there are fears that the ANC is already too strong.

Dr Themba Sono, a senior academic and president of the Institute of Race Relations, is a long-time ANC supporter.

"I even voted for them in 1994," he says. "But I am not prepared to see the entrenchment of any party as a state ... The more one party dominates all aspects of society - the less of a democracy we have," he says.

Domination a campaign issue

Yet the ANC campaign steams on - even though it knows it cannot lose this election.

Fears of domination - rather than democracy - form the bulk of the opposition's campaigns - using the ANC's own stated objectives.

The Democratic Party - like most opposition parties - is struggling to get into double percentage points in the opinion polls.

Helen Suzman
Helen Suzman will be voting DP
Their campaign plays on the ANC's appointment of its people to jobs in national institutions which are usually above party politics.

At 82, former pro-democracy campaigner Helen Suzman is retired from parliamentary politics.

But after years as the lone voice against apartheid she is sticking to the opposition path - and will be voting DP, preferring to see a true multi-party system flourish.

"There is nothing really to restrain a party which has a two-thirds majority ... ", she says.

Meanwhile, the fledgling United Democratic Movement - the only really racially mixed party - is also on the campaign trail.

The UDM is probably the one party which could challenge the ANC for black votes - brought in by its leader, a former ANC stalwart Bantu Holomisa.

His white deputy Roelf Meyer makes his aims clear: "Forget about the so called two-thirds barrier - we have to try to limit the ANC to below what they had last time - and then we're making a start towards real democracy in South Africa."

The UDM, though, is fighting an uphill struggle. The new party does not, for example, have public campaign funds since it is not currently represented in parliament.

ANC 'inner circle'

In South Africa, it is the older comrades of the ANC who hold sway. Inside the inner circle is where the bulk of serious political debate takes place - not in public.

Commitment to the ANC's legendary discipline is paramount. Those who voice criticisms outside - or who threaten the top tier of the party - are quickly ostracised.

According to Dr Themba Sono, the situation harks back to the apartheid days.

"This is not healthy for any society and we don't want to see a society which prides itself on being democratic to be operating in that kind of fear," he said.

The ANC prides itself on having delivered South Africa from apartheid - and it cannot be blamed for the resulting popular reverence.

But power must be put to proper use. If a government feels distant to its people - and if their lives are not changing for the better as promised - then they may decide to clear a different way. And that may be a path away from prosperity and peace.

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Jane Standley reports for the BBC
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Jane Standley in Whitbank, South Africa: The ANC and Thabo Mbeki seem unassailable
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