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S.Africa’s opposition vows war on graft, eyes polls

South Africa’s main opposition Democratic Alliance promised voters an end to corruption that has tainted the ruling ANC at the launch of its manifesto on Saturday ahead of May polls.

“Our leaders realised they could make money out of every job, out of every contract,” said DA leader Mmusi Maimane, 38, who wore a suit in the party’s signature blue.

Endemic corruption has been exposed inside the ruling African National Congress (ANC), the party of Nelson Mandela that has ruled since democracy in 1994, at two warts-and-all judicial inquiries probing official graft.

“It meant a better life for some… and they forgot about the rest of us. While too many of our people didn’t have water, some were drinking the finest champagne,” added Maimane.

“Those who started off as being liberators ended up looting from our people.”

Thousands of party faithful flocked to Johannesburg’s Rand Stadium, waiting for hours under a baking sun to hear Maimane’s pitch to unseat the ANC.

Performers sang and danced to the crowds who wore the DA’s signature blue — but struggled to fill the large stadium in the city’s south.

Maimane kicked off his speech with references to South Africa’s sporting and cultural heroes, before warning of a crackdown on corruption.

“I want to say to all the politicians, if you are corrupt, you can expect to spend 15 years in jail,” he said.

“I’m going to introduce an anti-corruption unit staffed by both specialist prosecutors and investigators.”

– ‘A party for all South Africans’ –

At the last polls in 2014, the DA won 22 percent of the vote, delivering 89 seats in parliament and the title of main opposition. It will be hoping to improve that showing on May 8 but may come up against smaller opposition parties.

“I understand where they’re coming from… they should be listened to,” said author and political observer Nomavenda Mathiane.

“They’re definitely going to do better than last time.”

After 2014’s polls, the DA subsequently took control of the capital Pretoria, the economic hub Johannesburg and the southern city of Nelson Mandela Bay.

The DA had hoped to exploit corruption allegations swirling around the ANC, particularly former president Jacob Zuma, to enhance its political standing — and potentially deny the ruling party an outright majority.

“We need change and we need it now — this is not the change my father talked about,” said Maimane, who is black.

South Africa only emerged from recession in December, has a stubborn 27 percent unemployment rate and is battling a $30 billion debt crisis at its state electricity utility that threatens to weigh down the economy.

But bitter internal divisions have left the DA battling to capitalise on the ruling party’s shortcomings.

In August the DA’s coalition partners in Nelson Mandela Bay pulled out of their agreement and stripped the party of its control of the city.

In October the party’s high-profile Cape Town mayor Patricia De Lille quit the DA alleging racism at the highest levels of the leadership.

De Lille, who is from the coloured community, went on to launch her own party called Good which could skim votes from that demographic which, along with the whites, had formed the DA’s electoral bedrock.

Then in January DA lawmaker Gwen Ngwenya quit her job as the party’s head of policy, accusing the leadership of not sticking to their pledges on affirmative action.

“But which party doesn’t have problems?” added Mathiane, the political writer.

Twenty-five years after apartheid, South Africa remains deeply divided along racial lines with white citizens mostly enjoying high standards of living.

“Black people, white people, Indian people, coloured people — we are a party for all South Africans,” said Mumaine to cheers.

Sixty-three percent of Black South Africans live below the poverty line however, and struggle to access work, healthcare and basic government services.

Maimane, elected leader in May 2015, has sought to throw off the party’s reputation as a voice of white voters and attempted to appeal to middle class black South Africans.

“It is the only party talking truth — the others aren’t,” said Innocent Mabuza, 33, a DA supporter at the event. “Why should I not go for the DA?”