Nelson Mandela’s battered African National Congress faces its biggest battle since the epic “struggle” against apartheid to retain a majority in a landmark election this year.Cash-strapped and attacked over corruption, a weak economy, power cuts and mounting crime, polls show the ANC is still likely to come out ahead in an anniversary parliamentary vote in 2024.But infighting and widespread disillusionment with ANC rule threaten to significantly erode its share of the vote and force it into a possibly uncomfortable power-sharing agreement.”Right now, the ANC is at its most divided, yet it is facing the most critical election since 1994,” said William Gumede, a politics professor at the University of the Witwatersrand.Former president Jacob Zuma capped a miserable 2023 for the party with a declaration of war against the “comrades” he led for a decade.- Zuma’s Spear -The 81-year-old Zuma — himself tainted by scandal but still wielding considerable clout — vowed to campaign and vote for the radical new Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK) party, or Spear of the Nation, named after the ANC’s old military wing.While insisting he remains in the ANC, Zuma condemned the government of his successor President Cyril Ramaphosa as “sellouts and apartheid collaborators”.On Friday, he announced a political alliance with former ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, who was kicked out of the party last year over graft allegations but remains popular with parts of the left-leaning electorate.Ramaphosa was Zuma’s vice president but they became bitter rivals after the latter was forced out of office on corruption charges in 2018.Another top veteran Mavuso Msimang also briefly quit the ANC in December, complaining of “endemic corruption” before being convinced to return.”Treachery, dishonesty and double dealing in the ANC is the norm,” said political analyst Sandile Swana.Criticism outside the scandal-ridden party has been mounting.Anglican church leader Archbishop Thabo Makgoba said South Africans had become “worn down by lies, corruption and incompetence” in a withering but thinly veiled attack.Mamphela Ramphele, a former World Bank managing director who once formed her own party to challenge the ANC, said, “The post-apartheid government has led the country to the cliffs of inequality, poverty and renewed injustice.”Support for the party has steadily declined since hitting a high of 69 percent at elections in 2004. In 2019 it won 57 percent of the vote. In 2024 — 30 years since it came to power — the ANC could slide below 50 percent for the first time in the election expected around May.A poll in October put the ANC at 45 percent, down from 52 percent in March. – Rebel appeal -Some analysts say Zuma’s intervention could take the figure even lower. Zuma’s power base is his home province KwaZulu Natal, which has the biggest ANC membership. More than 350 people died in riots and looting when he was briefly imprisoned in 2021. “He has both that identity appeal and a rebel appeal to angry voters,” said Susan Booysen, a political analyst for the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection.Gumede said a 46-49 percent vote share could force the ANC into a coalition with smaller radical parties such as the Economic Freedom Fighters, which has launched an aggressive campaign demanding land redistribution.But he added that if the share falls below 45 percent it would become a threat to Ramaphosa’s leadership. “That would be revenge for Zuma,” said Gumede.Addressing ANC supporters this week, Ramaphosa exuded confidence saying that those thinking the party could be pushed out of power were “just dreaming”.”That is not going to happen,” he said. “We see all these other parties that are coming up and have come up, we are prepared to take them on, we are not scared of them”. Africa’s most advanced economy, which shrank in the third quarter, could become a victim of the infighting even before the campaign officially starts.North West University economist Raymond Parsons said the political future was “volatile” with Zuma’s party and the EFF gaining strength.”2024 will therefore inevitably be about navigating poorly charted waters and avoiding rocks of uncertain location,” said Parsons.