JOHANNESBURG - South Africa holds its first "Born Free" election on Wednesday although polls suggest the allure of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) as the conqueror of apartheid will prevail even among voters with no memory of white-minority rule.
Opinion polls in South Africa's Sunday Times over the last two months have put ANC support at around 65 per cent, only a shade lower than the 65.9 per cent it won in the 2009 election that brought President Jacob Zuma to power.
The resilience of ANC support has surprised analysts who a year ago were saying it could struggle at the polls as its glorious past recedes into history and voters focus instead on the sluggish economic growth and slew of scandals that have typified Zuma's first term.
Africa's most sophisticated economy has struggled to recover from a 2009 recession - its first since the 1994 demise of apartheid - and the ANC's efforts to stimulate growth and tackle 25 per cent unemployment have been hampered by powerful unions.
South Africa's top anti-graft agency accused Zuma this year of "benefiting unduly" from a US$23 million (S$29 million) state-funded security upgrade to his private home at Nkandla in rural KwaZulu-Natal province that included a swimming pool and chicken run.
His personal approval ratings have dipped since the findings by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.
But at a news conference this week to conclude the ANC election campaign, the 72-year-old brushed aside suggestions the imbroglio was damaging the party.
"I'm not worried about Nkandla," Zuma said. "The people are not worried about it. I think the people who are worried about it is you guys, the media, and the opposition."
Besides being easy fodder for the cartoonists who have revelled in the freedom of speech enshrined in the post-apartheid constitution, Nkandla has exposed the gulf between current and former ANC leaders, in particular Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president, who died in December.
It has also become the rallying cry for those who feel the dominance of the ANC as it enters its third decade in power has corrupted the 102-year-old former liberation movement's soul. "It is not necessarily the huge sum paid by the public that is the most corrupt aspect of Zuma's palatial rural estate," the Business Day newspaper said in an editorial this week.