Berliner Tageblatt - South Africa's ANC kicks off election season

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South Africa's ANC kicks off election season
South Africa's ANC kicks off election season / Photo: © AFP

South Africa's ANC kicks off election season

South Africa's ruling ANC kickstarts its election campaign Saturday for polls on May 29, facing its worst result ever amid high unemployment and a sluggish economy.

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In power since the advent of democracy in 1994, President Cyril Ramaphosa's African National Congress has suffered a sharp decline in support, beset by allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

Yet, it remains a formidable machine, with supporters at all levels of government, and many South Africans retain proud memories of its lead role in the anti-apartheid struggle.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of people dressed in the ANC's yellow and green colours streamed into a soccer stadium in the port city of Durban, where Ramaphosa is to launch the party's election manifesto.

"We were born under this political party and we will go through everything with it," said Sthabile Nxumalo, 30, who runs a cosmetic business as she queued to enter the venue with her sister.

The ANC is facing an uphill battle to keep its parliamentary majority, with polls showing it particularly vulnerable in Durban's KwaZulu-Natal -- a key electoral battleground.

The province is home to former President Jacob Zuma, who, long resentful about the way he was forced out of office, has joined an opposition group seeking to cut into the ANC's share of the vote.

"Zuma represents the single biggest threat to the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal," said Zakhele Ndlovu, a politics lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban.

The embittered ex-leader was scheduled to hold a rival event less than an hour away at a country club in the town of Scottburgh.

But no one was there in the morning, with the venue telling AFP reporters it had not agreed to play host to the rally.

Calls to representatives of Zuma's party went unanswered.

- 'I like Zuma more' -

South Africa's second-most populous province, KwaZulu-Natal is seen as a gauge of the ANC's national prospects.

It has the biggest ANC membership, but the party is already under pressure there from the liberal Democratic Alliance (DA) and its ally, the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party.

"If the ANC doesn't do well in KwaZulu-Natal, it will not do well nationally," said Susan Booysen, a political analyst for the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection.

Polls indicate the party could win as little as 40 percent of the vote nationwide, which would force it to seek a coalition government to stay in power.

"The big task for the ANC will be, despite all other problems and its own decline, to project itself as a big strong party that can really do things," said Booysen.

In Durban, Ramaphosa is expected to tout the ANC's credentials as the liberation movement that brought democracy to South Africa and helped lift many from poverty.

Supporters will probably also hear pledges to end crippling power-cuts, fight rampant crime and create jobs, but their effectiveness has been undercut by the ANC's record.

Official figures released over the past weeks show both the murder and the jobless rates have gone up in recent months.

At the stadium, popular singers and loud motorbikes entertained the crowd as supporters chanted and danced on the stands. Some wore T-shirts reading "Together we move South Africa forward".

"Before 1994 we didn't have anything, now we have free education, we have houses, there has been lots of progress," said Nomawethu Dlangisa, a teacher in a yellow hat and a long ANC green dress.

Yet, the 52-year-old couldn't hide her sympathy for Zuma, exemplifying the challenges the party faces in the province.

"I like Ramaphosa, but I like Zuma more," she said.

Tainted by scandal and facing corruption allegations, the 81-year-old remains very popular in the province, where many identify with his traditional mores.

More than 60 percent of voters there approve of him, according to the Social Research Foundation.

His new radical Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK), or Spear of the Nation, party could win about 20 percent of the vote in the province, the pollster said.

"He really is a magnet for people who have become alienated from the ANC," said Booysen.

But the elderly statesman's home popularity does not extend nationwide.

An Ipsos survey conducted before MK was established showed the DA and the radical leftist EFF are vying for second place, with about 20 and 19 percent respectively.

M.Ouellet--BTB