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The Party Of Nelson Mandela Struggles To Attract New Voters

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The party Nelson Mandela led to power in South Africa after the end of apartheid is struggling now to attract new voters. Political scandal and demographic changes have weakened the African National Congress's grip on power. As Peter Granitz reports, young voters increasingly are looking to rival political parties.

PETER GRANITZ, BYLINE: The ANC swept to power in 1994, following the first ever all-race elections in South Africa.

AUBREY MATSHIQI: As black people - since 1994, we've been able to vote, something we did not enjoy before that. We enjoyed democratic rights and freedom of speech and so on.

GRANITZ: Aubrey Matshiqi is a political analyst with the Helen Suzman Foundation. He says South Africa did well establishing basic democratic rights, like an independent judiciary. But much of South Africa's gains, from those democratic rights to economic development to an overall better being for people, are concentrated in certain areas.

He says there are geographic gaps of development. There are gaps between political promises and what's delivered and gaps between the expectations of older and younger generations.

MATSHIQI: The younger generation, which, in many cases, does not have direct experience of apartheid, cannot be appealed to in times of our struggle heritage. They have different democratic expectations.

GRANITZ: Expectations like professional jobs. But young South Africans face an unemployment rate of 37 percent, 11 points higher than the national rate. And a recent report from the government's statistician general says young black people in South Africa today are actually less skilled than 20 years ago.

Municipal elections are scheduled for August 3. And the ANC is feeling pressure from two main opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters, which launched its campaign in a jam-packed stadium in Soweto.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)

GRANITZ: Tens of thousands of red-clad supporters blow their vuvuzelas and chant F, F for Freedom Fighters.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) F, F, F, F.

GRANITZ: They pump their fists in unison as Julius Malema whips his party faithful into a frenzy. Wearing a beret, gold-rimmed Aviators and red coveralls like the ones worn by day laborers here, Malema chides leaders of the ANC as out of touch. He tells his party faithful to never back away from fights with the ANC or President Jacob Zuma, who survived impeachment votes for corruption.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

JULIUS MALEMA: You must tell Zuma, too. We are not scared of him. Zuma will get out of office, whether he likes it or not. He will not be president by 2019.

GRANITZ: Malema, who is just 35 years old, was once the leader of the ANC Youth League but was expelled. His calls to expropriate land in nationalized mines ring true to many who feel they've missed out on South Africa's post-apartheid bounty.

Others, like 29-year-old Didi Mkwanazi, just want a government that listens. She says she attended the EFF rally to hear what the party had to offer, entering undecided and leaving even more fed up with the ANC.

DIDI MKWANAZI: They're always imposing whatever they want on us. We don't interact. It's just them giving orders, doing things. And we're just bystanders, basically.

GRANITZ: Economic growth is less than 1 percent in South Africa, prompting many graduates to look for work outside the country. 20-year-old Inga Mtsontzshi is studying medicine. He plans to stay in South Africa to practice. And he says there's no way he can support any party but the ANC just yet.

INGA MTSONTZSHI: I'm here now because my father was a soldier, yes. I have a bursary from the military veterans.

GRANITZ: His father was an ANC guerrilla against the apartheid regime. And he says his father often reminds him the ANC is paying his tuition. But Mtsontzshi concedes he won't vote. And that could count as a vote against the ANC. For NPR News, I'm Peter Granitz in Johannesburg. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.