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South African general election set for May 7

07 February 2014, 19:07

JOHANNESBURG, Feb 07, 2014 (AFP) -President Jacob Zuma on Friday announced that South Africa will hold a general election on May 7, a vote which promises to be the sternest test yet of the ruling African National Congress.

The election -- South Africa's fifth since apartheid ended in 1994 -- will be the first in which "born free" citizens can cast their ballot. They could make up as much as one fifth of the electorate.

It will also be the first election since the death of Nelson Mandela, the nation's founding father, first democratically elected president and the ANC's talismanic leader.

"These are historic elections as they take place during the 20th anniversary of our freedom from apartheid bondage," Zuma said, foreshadowing a campaign likely to lean heavily on the ANC's past glories.

Zuma said the vote would "consolidate the democracy and freedom that we worked so hard to achieve, and for which esteemed South Africans such as former president Nelson Mandela sacrificed life's comforts for."

The ANC is the strong favourite to win a majority of the 400 seats in parliament and so to return Zuma, now 71, to the presidency.

It has won each of the last four elections by a landslide, winning more than 60 percent of the popular vote.

But the party's reputation has been sullied by pervasive inequality, joblessness, cronyism, corruption and government incompetence.

And this time round the ANC faces a phalanx of opposition parties -- from the centrist Democratic Alliance to the left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters of Julius Malema -- who have fastened on to widespread popular unease.

Struggling leadership

Zuma himself heads into the election with his own standing significantly reduced.

He has been beset by a litany of scandals, crowned by the revelation that $20 million of taxpayers' money was used to refurbish his rural homestead.

That sits uneasily in a country where one in three workers is unemployed and many millions struggle to get by.

"This will be the jobs election," said Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille, who promises to implement policies that create six million new jobs, if elected.

"We will make this election a battle of ideas; even as our opponents cling to the outdated politics of racial mobilisation."

With the Democratic Alliance still struggling to shed its image as a party of white and mixed-race South Africans, the ANC's strongest challenge may come in urban and provincial elections.

The Democratic Alliance already runs the Western Cape province, including Cape Town, and has its sights set on wresting control of Gauteng, which encompasses Johannesburg and Pretoria.

The country's most populous province and its economic heart, Gauteng has been at the centre of a wave of violent protests over the government's failure to provide jobs and basic services.

Gauteng police say they were called in to 569 protests in the last three months alone and over a fifth of demonstrations turned violent.

Across the country as many as nine protesters are alleged to have been shot dead by police in the last month.

As Zuma's announcement came Friday, residents of Hebron township near Pretoria burned tyres and threw stones at passing vehicles as part of a protest against lack of water and sanitation.

"If this government is not ready to listen to us, then violence maybe will make them listen," said resident Reuben Mohlatsi.


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