JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Tis the season to be jolly — jolly critical, that is — in the South African city of Cape Town.
The mayor, Patricia de Lille, has been criticized by political opponents for encouraging people to mark the holiday season by writing personal messages to Nelson Mandela, the former South African president. The city is collecting the messages at a civic center exhibition honoring 95-year-old Mandela, who is critically ill, and plans to deliver them to the anti-apartheid leader in three weeks.
A labor group with links to the ruling African National Congress, which Mandela used to lead, said de Lille is trying to gain support by associating her opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, with the revered Mandela.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions accused de Lille of engaging in “ridiculous gimmicks” and said she had neglected the needy in Cape Town.
“Instead of trying to get standing through linking herself with Mandela, she should actually try doing good for the poor for once,” read a statement released by the labor group’s branch in Western Cape province, which includes Cape Town.
Solly Malatsi, spokesman for de Lille, pushed back, saying the criticism is “in stark contrast to the values of reconciliation and nation-building that Madiba taught us through his leadership.”
It is not the first quarrel over the legacy of Mandela, also known by his clan name Madiba.
Earlier this year, video footage showed a smiling President Jacob Zuma sitting with an unresponsive Mandela during a visit to the former leader’s home that some viewers thought was a stunt to promote the ruling party. In another incident, ANC supporters said the Democratic Alliance was capitalizing on the Mandela name when it published a pamphlet showing an old photograph of Mandela embracing Helen Suzman, an anti-apartheid activist whose party was a forerunner of the DA.
The African National Congress was a banned group at the forefront of the fight against racist rule, and has dominated elections since the first all-race vote in 1994. It is the front-runner ahead of elections next year, but opposition groups have chipped at its support by highlighting corruption scandals, service delivery gaps and other problems.
The ANC controls all but one of South Africa’s nine provinces; the Democratic Alliance controls the Western Cape.
In a statement this week, retired archbishop Desmond Tutu and other prominent Cape Town residents warned of efforts to make the Western Cape “‘ungovernable’ simply because certain elements disagree with the democratic choice of the majority in that province.”
Demonstrators from poor areas of Cape Town plan to march downtown on Friday to protest what they say are inadequate municipal services, according to South African media. Some violence broke out during a city march by several thousand protesters in October.