efe-epaBy Nerea González Johannesburg

A quarter of a century after the end of apartheid, South Africans are poised to vote in general elections on May 8 in a nation still wracked by corruption and economic disparity.

Roughly half of the population lives in poverty despite the fact South Africa lays claim to being the most industrially-developed nation on the continent, according to the latest official figures released in 2018, based on data collected in 2014/15.

These figures also demonstrate how the country's majority black population are still faced with little to no option to escape the most disadvantaged rungs of society.

Poverty not only affects South Africa unequally, but it has been worsening in recent years both in terms of the number of people it affects and the increasing rift between the country's poorest and richest.

"We cannot be a free nation of people when so many still live in poverty," Cyril Ramaphoasa, the incumbent president and leader of the African National Congress party, said at a event on Apr. 27 marking the 25th anniversary of the country's first democratic elections, which were won by the ANC's Nelson Mandela.

However, many voters blame the ANC, which has governed uninterrupted since that historic ballot, for South Africa's maladies.

The situation aggravated under former president, Jacob Zuma (2009-18), whose corruption-riddled tenure eventually led to his downfall when he was ousted by party members last year.

Cast an eye at racial inequality in South Africa and a clear picture of continued economic apartheid emerges.

Poverty affects one in every two households among black South Africans, who make up 77 percent of the national population while it affects one third of households among the country's colored population (a term used in South Africa to refer to multiracial ethnic groups) and on 0.8 percent of households among the minority white South Africans, who make up 10 percent of the total population.

Although there have been important advances in housing and drinkable water, the World Bank says that South Africa is not only one of the most economically disparate nations in the world but that it is more unequal now than it was in 1994.

When economic capital does fall into the hands of the black population, it does so in a concentrated manner.

Ramaphosa, a former trade unionist and anti-apartheid activist who with the coming of democracy became a businessman, is an example of this.

He features among the 20 richest men in the country, his brother-in-law, mining mogul Patrice Motsepe, is third on that list.

High unemployment rates, which is around 27 percent, and slow economic growth, around 0.8 percent, complicates the pursuit of solutions to poverty and economic inequality.

During the first half of 2018, South Africa's economy went into recession, largely due to a contracting agriculture sector amid drought, although it recovered in the second trimester.

In terms of gross domestic product, South Africa is the second largest economy in Africa, second only to Nigeria.

Added to these issues is a culture of corruption and clientelism, which in the last decade especially had eroded the confidence of foreign and local investors.

This mistrust in South Africa's institutions fomented under Zuma, whose remarks about a national struggle against a "white capitalist monopoly" coincided with prosecutor's orders for him to pay back roughly half a million dollars of public money that he had used to renovate his house.

Corruption and inefficiency took root in all public sectors and all sorts of institutions, such as the prosecutor's office, the tax department, public companies and even police units specified in countering organized crime.

An investigation into what kind of ties Zuma has with the powerful Gupta family, who allegedly had so much influence that they were able to handpick favorable cabinet ministers, is ongoing.

Ramaphosa took on the presidency with a promise to clean up the country's institutions but it became clear that such an objective to heal over the corruption scandals could take years to complete, given the scale of mismanagement and missing funds.

Zuma is at the center of a high-profile corruption trial, but no major arrests have been made yet.

The former president retains influence within the ANC and even appears at the party's high-level events, often sitting next to Ramaphosa himself.

Pollsters tip Ramaphosa to win the vote next week nonetheless, which would allow the ANC to continue its unbeaten record. EFE-EPA

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