Factbox-Key issues for South African voters in wide open 2024 election

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africans will vote in a national election on May 29 with an unprecedented sense of uncertainty about the outcome, as polls suggest the African National Congress will lose its majority after 30 years in power.

With coalition government looking like a possibility for the first time since the end of apartheid, a dizzying array of 70 parties from Marxists to social democrats to free marketeers are vying for voters’ attention in the last weeks of campaigning.

The following are the key issues that matter to voters who will elect a new National Assembly that will then choose the next president.

JOBS

South Africa has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, trapping millions of people in poverty and making them reliant on social grants, and the problem is worse now than it was at the end of apartheid.

The joblessness rate stood at 32.4% in 2023, nearly 10 points higher than in 1994, when the ANC came to power. Young people account for more than half of the country’s unemployed, with a rate of over 40%.

ECONOMY

The root cause of the joblessness crisis is sluggish growth. South Africa’s economy has barely grown in more than a decade, with economic growth averaging 0.8% since 2012.

Falling tax revenue has caused government debt to rise, with debt-servicing costs consuming a greater share of the national budget than basic education, social protection or health. The debt-to-GDP ratio is projected to reach 74.1% in the current fiscal year, up from 63.3% five years ago.

POWER CUTS

Known to South Africans as “load-shedding”, scheduled power cuts imposed by state utility Eskom because of an inability to generate enough electricity to meet demand are the bane of households as well as companies.

Eskom has been struggling to keep its ageing fleet of coal-fired power plants operational. The utility became dysfunctional in part due to a flourishing of corruption during the administration of former president Jacob Zuma from 2009 to 2018.

The government is working to add generating capacity, largely through deals with private companies operating solar and wind projects. While some projects are operational, the green power push suffered setbacks after some projects failed to secure funding.

CORRUPTION

A long series of corruption scandals involving ANC figures or people connected to them has created a perception among many South Africans that the greed of people in office is contributing to poor service delivery for everyone else.

An inquiry established in 2018 to examine allegations of high-level corruption during Zuma’s years in power found the problem had been systemic in government, a phenomenon that became known as “state capture”. Zuma himself denies any wrongdoing.

Since taking over from Zuma, President Cyril Ramaphosa has said tackling corruption was a priority, but opposition critics say his administration has done too little to stop the rot.

CRIME

South Africa has one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime, making it unsafe to venture into certain neighbourhoods. The problem is worse in the densely populated townships on the peripheries of cities where many Black working class people live.

The murder rate for 2022/23 was the highest in 20 years at 45 per 100,000, a 50% increase from a decade ago, police figures show. That is higher than in Honduras, a country plagued by extreme gang violence.

High levels of poverty, unemployment and inequality have created fertile ground for crime to take root in South Africa, compounded by the proliferation of organised criminal groups and a flood of illegal weapons in recent years.

IMMIGRATION

Since the end of apartheid, South Africa has attracted large numbers of refugees and immigrants from other African countries, seeking a safe haven and job opportunities.

The most recent census, in 2022, found that 2.4 million of South Africa’s population of 62 million were immigrants, compared with 835,000 in 1996, the year the post-apartheid constitution was promulgated.

Over the years, anti-immigrant sentiment has risen, and South Africa has experienced several violent crises when immigrants have been beaten up or killed by mobs and their businesses have been looted.

With voters turning against African immigrants, the government as well as the opposition have increasingly talked about tightening immigration laws to reduce the number of arrivals, and about cracking down on undocumented immigration.

In April, the government approved a policy report on toughening up the country’s immigration laws. It raised the possibility that South Africa could withdraw from United Nations conventions on refugees to “deter economic migrants who come to South Africa disguising as asylum seekers”.

A bill based on the report is expected to be introduced in parliament should the ANC remain in power after the election.

(Reporting by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo; Editing by Estelle Shirbon and Toby Chopra)

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