JOHANNESBURG – Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane accused the ruling African National Congress (ANC) of running a racist election campaign ahead of fiercely-fought municipal polls.
Maimane is hoping to lead his party to a breakthrough result on 3 August as the country struggles with record unemployment and flat-lining economic growth.
“They say if you are black, you must vote for the (ANC) party,” Maimane told an election rally in Johannesburg City Hall.
“That’s not the South Africa we want. To me that rings and sounds like racism.”
President Jacob Zuma last week told black voters to support the ANC and denounced the DA — which is widely seen as a party of middle-class whites — as the “spawn” of the apartheid government.
Zuma has been engulfed by a series of graft scandals as well as anger over the country’s poor economic performance, fuelling DA confidence that the all-powerful ANC could be dealt a major blow at the polls.
The DA will defend the strategic metropolis of Cape Town, and is hoping to seize power in other major urban municipalities including Johannesburg and Tshwane, which includes the capital Pretoria.
The opposition is polling about five points ahead of the ANC in Johannesburg, the economic powerhouse of South Africa, where the ruling party’s grip on power has been steadily slipping.
“The racial rhetoric reflects the ANC’s concern about the possible performance of the DA,” political analyst Daniel Silke told AFP.
“The ANC is under the most pressure they have seen in an y electoral contest since (the first democratic election in) 1994.
“It has limited options in terms of campaigning: service delivery has been weak and Zuma’s leadership controversial.”
– Battle for Mandela legacy –
Many of the ANC party’s traditional supporters are among the poor who have been hit by a lack of jobs as the economy has ground to a halt.
Last week, the central bank cut its 2016 growth forecast to zero percent.
Speaking at a weekend rally in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, which the DA is also targeting, President Zuma accused the opposition party of having the “same hatred” as the apartheid government.
“They don’t believe black people can lead,” Zuma said.
The ANC also released a statement on Tuesday calling the DA a “white supremacist party” and slammed it for invoking the name of former president Nelson Mandela at its rallies and in election adverts.
“The DA is a haven for racists, and its upper echelons dominated by individuals who hark back to the days of apartheid,” the statement said.
The DA has fought back, saying it now represents Mandela’s legacy better than the ANC party that he led in the struggle against apartheid.
On Monday, the opposition unveiled an election poster in Tshwane, reading “Honour Madiba’s dream. Vote DA”.
“When the ANC falls, Madiba will always stand because Madiba was bigger than just the ANC,” Maimane told hundreds of supporters on Tuesday, speaking in front of a banner reading “We can win”.
Silke described the election as a “mid-term style vote of confidence” for the ANC, which retains strong loyalty in many rural areas.
“It’s not just a local vote — it has national ramifications,” he said.
The radical leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party is also seeking to make a major impact in its first municipal elections.
All three main parties hold their final rallies this weekend.
Zuma will have completed two terms 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.