NELSPRUIT, SOUTH AFRICA: Supporters of South Africa’s governing African National Congress sang and danced to old liberation songs as the party launched its campaign ahead of a tough election this year.
Tens of thousands of people donning bright yellow ANC T-shirts filled the 43,500 capacity Mbombela Stadium, in the eastern province of Mpumalanga to listen to President Jacob Zuma.
The events also mark 102 years since the formation of the ANC, Africa’s oldest liberation movement.
Activists chanted pro-Zuma slogans, in support of their leader who was last month booed in front of dozens of world leaders during the memorial service of ANC ex-leader and father of modern South Africa, Nelson Mandela.
Zuma had Friday night vowed to take “bold” and “decisive” action to improve the lives of South Africans in a bid to win back the hearts of voters who are increasingly getting disenchanted over persistent poverty, graft and unemployment.
The upcoming general polls, expected in the first half of this year, mark 20 years since the end of apartheid in 1994.
Despite being the continent’s richest country South Africa is still dogged by high levels of inequality and joblessness rates are growing stubbornly high.
Zuma was Saturday to unveil the contents of the party manifesto which he launched on Friday.
The manifesto hinges around the so-called National Development Plan, which is opposed by some of his allies in the labour movement who see it as neoliberal.
Despite growing unpopularity, the ANC is still expected to win the polls, but could see a drop in its share of the vote to under 60 per cent.
Zuma this week vowed that the ANC would govern South Africa “forever and ever”.
He said the party which turned 102 years old on Tuesday, was on “a journey that is long.”
“It’s still a long walk to prosperity,” said Zuma, borrowing a phrase from Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk To Freedom.
Among those challenging the ANC in this year’s vote will be populist politician Julius Malema, a former youth leader who was expelled from the party in 2012 for ill-discipline.
At the stadium ANC supporters paraded a small makeshift coffin with RIP Juju (Malema) written on it, amid a strong security presence.
A police helicopter hovered around the stadium, while officers on the ground searched people entering the venue.
On Friday, ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa told reporters that “the economy is going to be featuring much more strongly in terms of what we want to achieve”.
He described the text as “actually one of our best manifestos”.
Facing one of its toughest elections ever, the ANC is expected to also focus its energy on rallying young voters.
For the first time, South Africans born after the end of apartheid, so-called “born-frees”, will be casting ballots.
Yet they are the generation at the receiving end of slowing economic growth and dwindling job opportunities.
“The ANC faces it biggest challenge among younger South Africans,” said political analyst Daniel Silke.
“The younger voter or first-time voter is much more questioning, they are more discerning, they are going to need to be convinced to vote for the ANC,” added Silke.