The first black leader of South Africa’s main opposition party on Tuesday accused the ruling African National Congress (ANC) of running a racist election campaign ahead of fiercely-fought municipal polls.
Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane is hoping to lead his party to a break-through result on August 3, as the country struggles with record unemployment and flat-lining economic growth.
“They say if you are black, you must vote for the (ANC) party,” Maimane told an election rally in central Johannesburg.
“That’s not the South Africa we want. To me that rings and sounds like racism.”
President Jacob Zuma last week told black voters to rally behind the ANC party, denouncing the DA — widely seen as a party of middle-class whites — as the “spawn” of the apartheid government.
Zuma has been engulfed by a series of graft scandals as well as anger over the country’s poor economic performance, fuelling DA confidence that the all-powerful ANC could be dealt a major blow at the election.
The DA is polling about five points ahead of the ANC in Johannesburg, the economic powerhouse of South Africa, where the ruling party’s grip on power has been steadily slipping.
Speaking at a weekend rally in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, which the DA also has ambitions of seizing, President Zuma accused the opposition party of having the “same hatred” as the apartheid government.
“They don’t believe black people can lead,” Zuma said.
The ANC on Tuesday released a statement calling the DA a “white supremacist party” for invoking the name of former president Nelson Mandela at its rallies and in election adverts.
“The DA is a haven for racists, and its upper echelons dominated by individuals who hark back to the days of apartheid,” the statement said.
The DA has fought back, saying it now represents Mandela’s legacy better than the ANC party that he led in the struggle against apartheid.
On Monday, the opposition unveiled an election poster in Tshwane — another key municipality up for grabs — reading “Honour Madiba’s dream. Vote DA”.
Madiba was Mandela’s clan name.
“When the ANC falls, Madiba will always stand because Madiba was bigger than just the ANC. He was the father of this nation,” Maimane said on Tuesday in front of a blue banner reading “We can win”.
The radical leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party is also seeking to make a major impact in its first municipal elections.
All three main parties hold their final rallies this weekend.