, Johannesburg, South Africa, Jul 31 – South African President Jacob Zuma on Sunday urged supporters to vote for the ruling African National Congress ahead of fiercely competitive municipal polls that could see the party lose control of several major cities.
Zuma’s ANC, which controls the majority of the country’s 278 municipalities, has been weakened by graft scandals and growing public discontent since it led the fight against white-minority rule.
At a massive final rally, the party made a last push for votes, stressing its anti-apartheid history and the legacy of former president and Nobel peace price winner Nelson Mandela.
“Millions of our people must vote ANC and enable their movement to continue improving the lives of our people,” Zuma told a packed Ellis Park Stadium in the Johannesburg city centre.
“Every vote counts.”
An estimated 55,000 supporters decked in the ANC’s green, yellow and black filled the stands for the extravagant rally, crowning a campaign the party said had cost it an estimated one billion rand ($72 million).
“We have walked the streets of this country, we have visited every town, every city. We have been to thousands of homes,” said Zuma.
The latest Ipsos opinion polls suggest that the ANC, which has ruled since the end of apartheid in 1994, could be under threat in three major cities — Pretoria, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth — in Wednesday’s election.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), which rules in Cape Town, is hoping for a breakthrough, citing the country’s poor economic performance and a series of corruption scandals plaguing Zuma.
Last week, South Africa’s highest court ruled that the president pay back $500,000 of public funds spent upgrading his private Nkandla residence with facilities including a chicken coop and a swimming pool.
“A lot of money was wasted there that should have been spent on the people,” Frieda Motlatla, 24, told AFP at Sunday’s rally.
But with her hair wrapped in an ANC turban, she said Zuma’s troubles would not affect her support: “I don’t vote for a person, I vote for a party.”
“Nkandla is not our business,” agreed Simon Machaka, 42. “Some people will always be dissatisfied. They don’t focus on the good things.”
Zuma, 74, will have completed two terms in office in 2019 and is not eligible to run for president again, but the ANC could replace him ahead of the next general election if the party scores poorly in the local polls.
Speaking to the weekly City Press newspaper, Zuma’s predecessor and later his deputy Kgalema Motlanthe said the ANC had “lost its ability to be representative of ordinary people”.
“It’s almost as though the country is on autopilot. There’s no leadership being provided,” he said.
“It may be possible at some point to salvage the ANC from this race to the bottom. But it is also possible that the ANC may so thoroughly discredit itself that there may be nothing to salvage.”
“If we reach that moment, it would mean a realignment of political forces in South Africa.”
The radical leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party is also seeking to make a major impact in its first municipal elections.
“The ANC is dead,” EFF leader Julius Malema told thousands at a rally in a northern city of Polokwane.
“It is buried with Nelson Mandela.”