ANC holds final rally in Soweto

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ANC holds final rally in Soweto

Farouk Chothia,BBC News, Soweto

EPA Performers hold ANC flags during the African National Congress Party (ANC) final election rally held at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, 25 May 2024EPA

Under the banner Siyanqoba (Zulu for We Are Conquering), South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) held its final rally on Saturday as it campaigns for a record seventh term in office.

But far from conquering, the party appears to be struggling in this election.

Apart from its low-quality campaign posters and T-shirts, it failed to fill the 90,000-seater football stadium in the historic township of Soweto, where the rally was held.

Opinion polls suggest that the ANC could lose its parliamentary majority for the first time since it took power at the end of white-minority rule 30 years ago, as voters punish it for power cuts, widespread government corruption and crushingly high levels of unemployment.

Nevertheless, the turn-out of 60,000 to 70,000 was still impressive, with Mr Ramaphosa declaring that the party was poised for a “decisive victory” in Wednesday’s election.

Nomsa Maseko/BBC ANC supporters carrying coffinNomsa Maseko/BBC

The ANC and its former leader Jacob Zuma are fighting it out in this election

Some ANC supporters carried coffins of opposition parties – including that of former President Jacob Zuma’s newly formed party, uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), which translates as Spear of the Nation.

“Zuma is a big traitor,” Manelisi Zulu told the BBC.

The 82-year-old former president caused a major shock in December by ditching the ANC to spearhead MK’s campaign.

Claiming that Mr Zuma’s party had no future, Mr Zulu said: “Today we are holding its memorial. On 29 May, we will bury it.”

Opinion polls paint a different picture, suggesting that MK could get between 8% and 13% of the national vote, and help deny the ANC a parliamentary majority.

The party could also emerge as the largest in Mr Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal, to end ANC control there.

Aware of the threat, Mr Ramaphosa fired salvoes at his predecessor, without naming him.

“Those who could not stand the renewal of the ANC have left us,” he said.

Mr Ramaphosa added that money stolen through state capture – the term South Africans use to describe the grand corruption that took place during Mr Zuma’s presidency – was being recovered by law-enforcement agencies, and that “treasonous” attempts to “destroy” the tax department had been “stopped”.

“The people have told us that the ANC is their organisation. They have told us that they love the ANC. They have told us that they will not allow their organisation to be stolen by criminals and counter-revolutionaries,” Mr Ramaphosa added.

But the president himself was rocked by a major scandal in 2022, after it emerged that he had stashed at least $580,000 (£458,000) of cash in a sofa on his game farm, with the money later stolen by robbers.

A panel of legal experts appointed by parliament recommended that impeachment proceedings be instituted against Mr Ramaphosa, but the ANC used its parliamentary majority to block it.

Mr Ramaphosa denied any wrongdoing, while subsequent investigations – including by South Africa’s public protector – cleared him. However, police are yet to disclose the outcome of their investigation.

At the rally, ANC supporters dismissed the allegations of money-laundering against the president.

“It was a trap set up for Mr Ramaphosa so that he looks bad. He is the best president we’ve had,” Thando Matidza told the BBC, as she applauded his pledge to root out corruption in the party.

AFP Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa's president, leader of the ruling party African National Congress (ANC), during the Siyanqoba rally at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Saturday, May. 25, 2024AFP

President Cyril Ramaphosa is seeking a second term

A survey published last month showed that corruption was the second-biggest concern for South Africans, after electricity blackouts which left homes and businesses without power for up to 12 hours a day.

However, there have been no power-cuts for almost two months now, leading cynics to say that the ANC has miraculously kept the lights on during the campaign – and they’ll be off again after the election.

Mr Ramaphosa said that power stations were now being “better maintained”, and the “excellent work” to tackle the energy crisis would be “completed” in the ANC’s next term.

Despite the many problems South Africa is facing – also including water shortages and deteriorating roads and railways – the ANC is almost certain to remain the largest party, even if it fails to pass the 50% threshold.

Unable to match the ANC’s support, the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) is due to hold its final campaign rally at a 20,000-seater stadium later on Sunday.

An Ipsos opinion poll released last month gave it only around 22% of the vote, while the Social Research Foundation’s tracking poll put its support earlier this month at between 24% and 27%.

The ANC’s chances of remaining the biggest party have been bolstered by the fact that the opposition is heavily divided. A total of 51 opposition parties are on the national ballot, competing for seats in parliament.

But the DA has also been hit by splits. Two of its senior black leaders – Mmusi Maimane and Herman Mashaba – quit the party after the 2019 election, and have formed their own parties to contest Wednesday’s election.

Mr Ramphosa blasted the DA at his final campaign rally.

Without naming it, he described the party’s pledge to phase out the national minimum wage as “outrageous”, especially “in these times of hardship”.

“These are the same reactionary forces that see nothing wrong in paying slave wages to illegal migrants while depriving law-abiding workers of the right to a living wage,” Mr Ramaphosa added.

The DA’s support comes mainly from racial minorities – including Muslims in the coloured, as mixed-race South Africans are known, and Asian communities.

Muslims make up less than 2% of the population, but as each vote matters, the ANC is hoping they will vote for the party because of the strong support it has shown for Palestinians, taking Israel to the International Court of Justice on charges of genocide, which Israel denies.

EPA Pro-Palestinian organizations carry Palestinian flags during the African National Congress Party (ANC) final election rally held at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, 25 May 2024EPA

The ANC has been a long-standing supporter of the Palestinians

At the rally, Mr Ramaphosa chanted the controversial slogan, “Free Free Palestine. From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free.”

“There must an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The hostages held in Gaza must be released. The people of Gaza must receive all the food, fuel and other essential goods they need to prevent mass starvation,” he said.

ANC member Salome Makgoba welcomed Mr Ramaphosa’s support for the Palestinians, telling the BBC: “When we were under apartheid, Palestinians supported us. It is our turn to return the favour.”

The conflict has clearly been a major mobilising tool for the ANC, but it is unlikely to determine the outcome of the election as people are more worried about domestic issues – and will give their verdict on Wednesday on who is best-placed to take South Africa forward.

Getty Images/BBC A woman looking at her mobile phone and the graphic BBC News AfricaGetty Images/BBC

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