DURBAN, South Africa (AP) — The controversial leader of South Africa’s third-largest political party vowed Saturday to create jobs for millions of the country’s unemployed and restructure its economy as he seeks to attract more voters ahead of the long-awaited general election.
Economic Freedom Fighters party founder Julius Malema addressed a 56,000-capacity Moses Mabhida stadium in the coastal city of Durban as he launched the party’s election manifesto to the delight of his supporters.
“This is not a manifesto of promises, it is a manifesto of commitments,” he said.
With the election season well underway in South Africa, most political parties that have not released their manifestos are expected to do so in the coming weeks. No date has been announced for the election.
The election is expected to be hotly contested because the ruling African National Congress, which has ruled the country since Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first democratically elected leader in 1994, faces myriad challenges.
EFF party supporters on Saturday, dressed in red party attire, including T-shirts with Malema’s image, went into a frenzy as he entered the stadium, chanting fight songs and liberation slogans.
The EFF is popular among many disenchanted South Africans, especially young people, 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 greatly divides opinion for his radical proposals to solve the country’s problems, continues to enjoy growing popularity in South Africa and increasingly across Africa.
Malema, a former ANC youth leader who was expelled from the party, is now among the ruling party’s staunchest critics. He is an outspoken lawmaker who has become a nuisance for the ANC and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The EFF won 10% of the national vote in the country’s 2019 election and became the third largest opposition party.
Buoyed by declining support for the ANC, which has ruled South Africa since 1994, the party hopes to increase its support in the upcoming elections.
Recent surveys by polling firm Ipsos published this week estimated that the EFF could do better in upcoming polls and replace the Democratic Alliance as the country’s second-largest party.
The same polls also suggest the ANC could fall below 50% electoral support in what is expected to be the ruling party’s toughest election yet.
Malema announced the party’s slogan for the upcoming elections: “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 caused continuous blackouts.
“This manifesto is a manifesto of the people who swim in the puddle of poverty,” Malema said.
Malema said the party would stop the electricity blackouts that are affecting the country’s economy and create jobs by, among other things, creating social housing and road infrastructure.
He also promised to jail politicians and public servants who are involved in corruption and promised to introduce incentives for the police to fight the high prevalence of crime in the country.
“We are going to increase the visibility of police and soldiers. “Many of you can’t say you saw the police on your way here,” she said.
Malema also promised to increase social assistance 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 dressed in party insignia, said the party was the only one that was serious about changing the economic situation of black people in South Africa.
“No other party is serious about returning the land or ensuring that black people also benefit from the country’s economy,” Simelane said.
Raymond Zitha, 33, said he did not vote in the last election but would do so this year to support the EFF. He was among supporters who were bussed 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 the main political parties will also participate in the elections.
Former ANC and South African 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, former leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, has founded BOSA, a new party that will run for the first time, while former Johannesburg mayor and DA member Herman Mashaba’s Action SA will contest its first national elections.