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Local vote to challenge dominance of South Africa’s ANC

South Africa’s ruling ANC, riven by corruption and tarnished by its failure to redress poverty and inequality, on Monday unveiled its manifesto for upcoming local elections vowing to renew itself, woo back supporters and stop opposition inroads.

The party of late leader and liberation icon Nelson Mandela was the last of the major parties to do so, following the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) and the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

The ANC party which has ruled South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994 suffered its worst electoral setback during the last local polls in 2016, eking out just under 54 percent nationally while losing an absolute majority in five of the six largest cities, including Johannesburg and Pretoria.

In a televised event President Cyril Ramaphosa launched his party’s manifesto from a public square in the capital Pretoria on Monday, pledging a reformed party while admitting that “we have made mistakes” in the past.

“We have not always done the best that we were meant to do. We have not always put the best people in positions of responsibility,” he said.

Pleading for votes, he assured that an ANC victory would demonstrate “how we are renewing ourselves, how we are revitalising ourselves how we are repositioning ourselves”.

“Vote for us, invest your vote in us once again and the ANC will deliver,” he promised.

The ANC’s campaign has already been in full swing for the past two weeks, with Ramaphosa leading party officials criss-crossing impoverished townships and villages.

On Sunday, a smiling Ramaphosa went door-to-door in eastern Johannesburg, sat next to potential voters, patting them on the shoulder, and picked up a young boy sporting an oversized yellow campaign T-shirt.

– Young candidates –

In a bid to rebrand itself, the ANC is targetting young voters, boasting that a quarter of the ANC’s 10,000 candidates are young people.

“These young candidates will be joining hands with an experienced…older councillors,… learn from our mistakes and take local government into a new era,” he said.

ANC’s main rival the DA, which is still struggling to shake off its image as a predominantly white party, launched its manifesto online because of Covid-19 restrictions.

DA leader John Steenhuisen said the party is fielding a candidate in every ward across the country for the first time in history.

“The DA governs less than 10 percent of South Africa’s municipalities, but the top five performing municipalities are all DA-run,” he bragged.

“You may ask yourself: Why? What is it about these towns and cities that make them work when neighbouring municipalities are imploding?” he said, touting the party’s slogan of “local government that works”.

The radical leftist EFF unveiled its manifesto at a Sunday rally where little heed was paid to Covid social distancing protocols, which have been largely relaxed though outdoor gatherings are still limited to 500 people.

Thousands of supporters dressed in the EFF’s red and black converged at a square in rundown central Johannesburg.

– The ANC ‘are looting’ –

Among them was white-bearded Tebugo Maboka, 66, one of the few elderly supporters at the rally.

He ditched the ANC for the EFF, saying the ruling party had lost the plot, with its leaders only taking care of themselves “instead of the people”.

“All these years, ANC is more about destruction than development of our economy. They are looting,” he told AFP.

On the podium, EFF leader Julius Malema, 40, slammed the “white capitalists who captured and continue to control” ANC leaders.

Analysts say the ANC will struggle to regain its lost voter base during the November 1 elections because of deep-rooted internal conflict, general disarray and gross mismanagement of some of the municipalities it controls.

“When the ANC has lost votes in the local government, it was because of divisions in the ANC, not necessarily because of the strength of the opposition parties,” Sandile Swana, an independent political analyst.