ANC puts jobs and growth at heart of 2019 poll campaign

Supporters sing during the launch of the election manifesto of the African National Congress in Durban, South Africa, Saturday. — Reuters

DURBAN — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa vowed to create more jobs, boost economic growth and address racial inequalities at a rally on Saturday to launch the ruling party’s parliamentary election campaign.

The vote, expected in May, will be a test of whether Ramaphosa has been able to reverse a decline in support for the African National Congress (ANC), which has governed since the end of apartheid in 1994 but has seen its majority wane.

Ramaphosa became head of state in February last year after his allies on the ANC’s executive forced scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma to resign, fearing that the corruption affairs and economic stagnation that marked his nine years in power could harm the party’s chances at this year’s election.

“At the center of our manifesto is a plan to create many more jobs and ensure that all workers can earn a decent living,” Ramaphosa told African National Congress supporters at a stadium in Durban.

“The most pressing task for our country is to set the economy on a higher path of shared growth and to transform the structure of our economy to provide opportunities for millions of South Africans,” he added.

The African National Congress (ANC), which has ruled since the end of apartheid 25 years ago, is tipped to win the election in May 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.

But 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.

Tens of thousands of party activists dressed mostly in yellow party colors converged at the 85,000-seater soccer stadium in the coastal city of Durban for the launch of the manifesto where they danced to music.

In a noisy and colorful display, dozens of motorbike riders flying ANC flags, circled the pitch — revving up their bikes to chants and applause from supporters on the terraces.

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

Senior party officials have this week fanned out across the surrounding Kwa-Zulu Natal province, spreading the message of a revived and unified party.

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 they have struggled to dent the ruling party since Zuma’s fall.

Unemployed mother of six, Marriam Xobololo, 53, from the rural area of eNgcobo in the Eastern Cape province has voted for the ANC since 1994.

“I will forever vote for ANC, and I will die and perish voting for the ANC. We are nothing without ANC”.

Lungile Nogabe, a businessman who drove to Durban from the central city of Bloemfontein, said: “We lost support as our members were disappointed, especially by corruption. Now that we have a new president, you will see wonders.” — Agencies