Malema in final bid to woo voters from South Africa’s ANC
South Africa's firebrand politician Julius Malema, held his party's final election rally on Sunday, hoping to woo disaffected voters from the ruling ANC party with just three days until polling.
Thousands of supporters of the Economic Freedom Fighters party (EFF) gave Malema, an ANC dissident, a hero’s welcome when he entered the packed stadium in Atteridgeville, a poor suburb of Pretoria.
Dressed in the EFF’s signature red berets, a crowd of over 25,000 people roared and blew earsplitting whistles for the man they call “president”.
Malema launched the EFF last year after he was expelled from the ruling African National Congress for criticising its leadership.
“We are not scared to confront the most powerful organisation,” he said praising his supporters for being “brave” and “defying the status quo”.
“They said at the beginning we are a joke, but today none of them will go to sleep without mentioning the EFF.”
“They can’t wish us away, we are here to stay,” Malema added. “The EFF is the future.”
The left-wing party, which calls for the nationalisation of state resources and the redistribution of white land to blacks, has seen its support grow considerably amid mounting anger over ANC corruption and a failure to create jobs.
An Ipsos poll last week forecast that the year-old EFF will get five percent of the votes in the May 7 election, while the ANC should get a landslide 63 percent victory.
Throughout his hour-long speech, Malema, the baby-faced 33-year-old with an aptitude for Machiavellian politics, had the crowd hanging on his every word, cracking jokes about the ANC and other opposition parties.
Since its creation, the populist EFF has emulated the wildfire success of the radical right-wing Tea Party in the United States, tapping into grassroots dissatisfaction with government.
– ‘ANC has failed us’ –
Notorious for his extravagant lifestyle, Malema, who recently was criticised for wearing Louis Vuitton shoes – while claiming to represent the downtrodden – is fighting fraud and tax evasion charges.
But that hasn’t put a dent in his popularity.
At the rally, Malema’s flair for spectacle was on show. Before taking the stage, motorcyclists revved their engines, speeding up and down the stadium track to wild cheers and screams.
Meanwhile, supporters did laps around the stadium carrying cardboard boxes fashioned like coffins draped in the ANC yellow flag. “Rest in hell,” said one.
“The ANC has failed us with their promises, those promises are empty,” said Ishmael Khasu, a 39-year-old man decorated head to toe with EFF pins.
The EFF has gained traction amongst youth in the country, who suffer from a 50 per cent unemployment rate, the third highest in the world, according to a World Economic Forum Global Risk 2014 report.
Despite widespread disgruntlement, the ANC is headed for a majority in an election regarded as the most hotly contested since 1994, when Mandela was elected as the country’s first democratic president.
Malema has capitalised on scandals surrounding President Jacob Zuma, who is facing an inquiry over millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money used to refurbish his private home in rural Nkandla.
One poster at the rally read “ANC failed us, EFF help us,” and featured a cartoon of Zuma, running away with a house.