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South African parties wrap up local poll campaigns

South Africa’s opposition leader sought to sway swing voters on Tuesday, while President Jacob Zuma hitched his star to anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela as campaigning ended for local polls.

With an opinion poll showing that support for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) could slip in Wednesday’s local elections, Zuma visited Mandela to remind voters of the glory days of the democracy struggle.

“Mandela understands the importance of voting (more) than most of us,” Zuma told reporters outside the Johannesburg home of South Africa’s first black president.

In elections where turnout could become a crucial factor in the results, Zuma urged the nation to follow Mandela’s lead and cast ballots, after the Nobel Peace Prize winner cast a special ballot from his home on Monday.

“Voting is important for all of us, it shapes the direction of our country,” Zuma said.

The ANC has swept every vote since the first all-race elections in 1994 that ended white-minority apartheid rule, a winning streak set to continue Wednesday, but possibly by a smaller margin.

An Ipsos Markinor survey of 2,050 voters tips the ANC to win 58.9 percent, down seven points from the 2006 local polls, with the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) set to make gains to take just under one fifth of the ballots.

DA leader Helen Zille spent the last day of campaigning in the industrial city of Port Elizabeth, where the opposition is seen as having its best chance of displacing the ANC.

“I have been here five times and there is a chance we can win it if our supporters come out and vote,” Zille told supporters in Port Elizabeth, according to the Sapa news agency.

“It will all boil down to who comes out and votes tomorrow.”

About 48 percent of voters turned out for the last local elections. Analysts say a low turnout is more likely to benefit the opposition, which looks set to maintain control of Cape Town while making some gains in other big cities.

The ANC’s liberation credentials have been tarnished by graft and growing anger at local government, blamed for flawed services like water and electricity.

Violent demonstrations have exploded in poor areas with major protests rocketing from just 10 in 2004 to 111 last year, according to research group Municipal IQ.

Derided as white and elitist, Zille has danced at rallies and spoken in Xhosa to urge people to choose better public services over race, while the ANC has used its rich anti-apartheid history and promised to beef up weak areas.