Leader of South African opposition party promises jobs, land ahead of election

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DURBAN, South Africa (AP) — The controversial leader of South Africa’s third largest political party promised Saturday to create jobs for millions of the country’s unemployed and turn around its economy as he seeks to attract voters ahead of a much anticipated general election.

Economic Freedom Fighters party founder Julius Malema addressed a packed 56,000-capacity Moses Mabhida Stadium in the coastal city of Durban as he launched the party’s election manifesto to the delight of supporters.

“This is not a manifesto of promises, it’s a manifesto of commitments," he said.

With election season well underway in South Africa, most political parties who have not launched their manifestos are expected to do so in the coming weeks. A date for the election has not been announced.

The election is expected to be highly contested because the ruling African National Congress, which has governed the country since Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first democratically-elected leader in 1994, faces myriad challenges.

EFF party supporters Saturday clad in red party regalia, including T-shirts with Malema’s likeness, went into a frenzy as he entered the stadium, singing struggle songs and liberation slogans.

The EFF is popular among many disenchanted South Africans, especially youth, due to its radical policies that include the expropriation of white-owned land and the nationalization of mines and banks.

Malema, a controversial figure who largely divides opinion for his radical proposals to solve the country’s problems, continues to enjoy widening popularity in South Africa and increasingly across Africa.

A former ANC youth leader who was expelled from the party, Malema is now among the ruling party’s staunchest critics. He's an outspoken lawmaker who has become a thorn in the side of the ANC and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The EFF garnered 10% of the national vote in the country’s 2019 elections to become the third largest opposition party.

Buoyed by the decline in support for the ANC, which has governed South Africa since 1994, the party expects to increase its support in the upcoming elections.

Recent polls by polling firm Ipsos released this week estimated the EFF could perform better in the upcoming polls and replace the Democratic Alliance as the second biggest party in the country.

The same polls also suggest the ANC may dip under 50% of electoral support in what is expected to be the ruling party’s toughest elections yet.

Malema announced the party’s slogan for the coming elections as “Jobs and land now! Stop loadshedding,” a phrase that alludes to the country’s high unemployment rate of more than 30%, the slow pace of land redistribution and the country’s electricity crisis, which has resulted in rolling power blackouts.

“This manifesto is a manifesto of the people swimming in the pool of poverty,” said Malema.

Malema said the party would stop the power blackouts that are impacting the country’s economy and would create jobs through, among other things, the creation of social housing and road infrastructure.

He also promised to jail politicians and public servants who are implicated in corruption and vowed to introduce incentives for police to fight the country’s high prevalence of crime.

“We are going to increase the visibility of police and soldiers. Many of you can’t say that you saw the police on your way here,” he said.

Malema also promised to increase social welfare grants and introduce a basic income grant for the unemployed.

Some EFF supporters who spoke to The Associated Press expressed confidence in the party’s chances in the upcoming elections.

Nomonde Simelane, 28, a staunch EFF supporter wearing party regalia, said the party was the only one serious about changing Black people’s economic situation in South Africa.

“No other party is serious about returning the land, or making sure that Black people also benefit from the country’s economy”, said Simelane.

Raymond Zitha, 33, said he didn't vote in the last election but would do so this year to support the EFF. He was among supporters who were bussed in to the rally in Durban by the party from various parts of KwaZulu-Natal province, where fierce political competition is expected.

Some smaller parties led by former leaders and members of major political parties will also take part in the elections.

Former ANC and South Africa President Jacob Zuma announced the formation of a new party, Umkhonto we Sizwe ("Spear Of The Nation"), which has been registered to compete in this year’s elections.

Mmusi Maimane, the former leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, has started BOSA, a new party set to run for the first time, while former Johannesburg mayor and DA member Herman Mashaba’s Action SA will take part in its first national election.