Grassroots members of South Africa's ruling ANC believe that the famed anti-apartheid party is sidelining non-black supporters, according to a potentially politically explosive study published on Wednesday.
Research by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation — formed by Nelson Mandela's ex-prison mate and fellow anti-apartheid activist — showed that ANC members who are not black feel left out because of their race.
"Generally speaking, branch members have deep-seated concerns with non-racialism in the ANC and in society more broadly," said the report posted on the foundation's website.
One respondent told the researchers that "in the ANC racism is still very strong and it can be proven any day, anywhere."
Another said "the ANC is more racist than any political party at the moment."
The ANC "preaches about being non-racist... but is doing the opposite," added another party member.
The impression that the party promotes the interests of blacks first has seen its support base eaten away in sections of the population, the report concluded.
"Indeed the perception (whether real or imagined) that the ANC is advancing only the interests of Africans has led to loss of electoral support in 'minority areas'."
The study was conducted in the country's largest city and its economic hub, Johannesburg.
Respondents were sampled from South Africa's four main racial groups — blacks, whites, people of Indian descent and those of mixed race, known colloquially as "coloureds".
Branch members in the predominately coloured Eldorado Park neighbourhood and those in the highbrow and mainly white suburb of Sandton "are frustrated with the party and feel much anger about the way they are treated," the report said.
"This has made the role of being an ANC branch member in these areas very challenging, and often thankless."
The results of the study showed that the party, which prides itself as an example of democracy in Africa, has fewer members of the minority races occupying leadership positions at branch level.
"Many branch members are disillusioned about the manner in which members are awarded senior positions," said the study, with many believing these are 'only open to Africans'."
"This raises significant questions about democracy in the party," it added.
ANC officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
While acknowledging that race relations have significantly improved since the ANC took to office nearly two decades ago, the study noted that members also feared broader societal trends.
"Branch members feel not enough change has taken place and that racial tensions are impeding social cohesion and concomitant growth and progress in the country."