Centurion (South Africa) (AFP) - South African President and ruling ANC leader Cyril Ramaphosa stepped up the charm offensive Sunday to lure firebrand Julius Malema back to the party he was expelled from in 2012.
Ahead of a general election due in 2019, a weekend-long voter registration drive was underway across South Africa on Saturday and Sunday, prompting a flurry of political manoeuvering.
Malema founded the radical opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) after he was removed from the African National Congress (ANC) along with a number of allies.
His party now has the third largest number of MPs in the National Assembly, the lower house of the legislature.
For years the EFF ruthlessly attacked former president Jacob Zuma and his government, making accusations of corruption and incompetence.
But since Zuma's resignation last month, the EFF has softened its stance on the governing party and Ramaphosa, instead switching its hostility to the main opposition Democratic Alliance party.
"We would want to welcome (EFF members) back, and in fact we are able to say we would love to have Julius Malema back in the ANC. He is still ANC down deep in his heart," said Ramaphosa during a voter registration drive in Centurion, near Pretoria.
"The ANC is their home."
Ramaphosa's comments came after anti-apartheid icon and Nelson Mandela's former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela said she would persuade Malema to rejoin the ANC.
Malema previously also ruled out a return to the ANC where he once headed the party's powerful Youth League.
"My grandmother is 87 years old. She said even if she dies, I must never rejoin the ANC," Malema told a news conference in parliament last month.
"I would rather leave politics and go and be an analyst on Power FM," he added referring to a local radio station.