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Ruling ANC kicks off S.Africa election campaign with vow to restore democracy, growth

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Saturday launched the ANC’s campaign for legislative elections in May, acknowledging the party’s past mistakes and promising to restore democratic institutions and economic growth.

Ramaphosa unveiled a 68-page manifesto before tens of thousands of supporters in the eastern city of Durban, marking the start of four months of hectic campaigning.

The African National Congress (ANC), which has ruled since the end of apartheid 25 years ago, is tipped to win the election despite faltering support, internal divisions and a sluggish economy.

The party of Nelson Mandela suffered a slump in popularity under the scandal-ridden presidency of Jacob Zuma, who was ousted last February after nine years at the helm.

“We must acknowledge that mistakes have been made,” Ramaphosa said, adding: “After a period of doubt and uncertainty, we have arrived at a moment of hope and renewal.

“The 2019 elections provide an opportunity to restore our democratic institutions and to return our country to a path of transformation, growth and development.”

A recent IPSOS survey predicted the ANC could garner as much as 61 percent in the national and provincial elections.

At the legislative level, that would put it on a par with its performance in 2014, when it picked up 62 percent. In South Africa’s parliament, the party which holds a majority of seats also selects the president.

The forecast upswing is pinned on the appointment of moderate pro-business reformer Ramaphosa as president after ANC lawmakers forced Zuma to resign as corruption scandals piled up.

– ‘Mistakes have been made’ –

“The 2019 elections provide an opportunity to restore our democratic institutions and to return our country to a path of transformation, growth and development,” Ramaphosa said, underscoring that the main planks of the manifesto included job creation and decent wages.

Activists dressed mainly in the party colours of yellow and green packed a 85,000-capacity soccer stadium in the coastal city for the launch and applauded wildly when ex-leader Zuma, who is from the region, joined a group of dancers on stage.

In a noisy and colourful display, dozens of motorbike riders flying ANC flags, circled the pitch – revving up their bikes to chants and clapping.

In a bruising internal party battle, Ramaphosa won a power struggle to succeed Zuma, whose favoured candidate was Zuma’s former wife.

– Controversial land reforms –

Ramaphosa vowed to work “more diligently” to get rid of factionalism and patronage, as he switched between the country’s 11 languages throughout his speech.

The manifesto underlines the ANC’s commitment to land reform to tackle racial inequality — setting the stage for one of the election’s fiercest battlegrounds.

One of Ramaphosa’s flagship pledges is to change the constitution to allow land to be taken from minority white owners without compensation — a plan aimed at attracting landless black voters that has alarmed many foreign investors.

“In this manifesto, (is)…. a plan to accelerate land reform…, including, where appropriate, expropriation without compensation,” said Ramaphosa.

The South African economy is forecast to have grown just 0.7 percent last year, with unemployment remaining at record highs of over 27 percent.

Political analyst Lukhona Mnguni said there was nothing radically new in the pledges.

“A manifesto of the ANC can’t look like a manifesto of a new political party that has not been in government,” said Mnguni. “You get a sense that it’s business as usual”.

The ANC will face the main opposition Democratic Alliance and the radical leftist Economic Freedom Fighters party in the election.

Both parties hope to make gains due to the ANC’s poor recent record and discontent over stark post-apartheid inequality but have struggled to dent the ruling party since Zuma’s fall.

Gift Xulu, 36-year-old basketball coach, said he was “confident” Ramaphosa would steer the ANC to victory because “the signs are there, that’s he is able”.

Unemployed mother of six, Marriam Xobololo, 53, travelled s from the rural Eastern Cape province to attend the launch. She has voted for the ANC since 1994.

“The ANC is just like Christ in my heart,” she said. “I will forever vote for ANC, and I will die and perish voting for the ANC.”