- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2009

JOHANNESBURG | Former South African President Nelson Mandela brought crowds to their feet Sunday with a surprise appearance at the final rally of his African National Congress (ANC), ahead of the general election on Wednesday.

Sporting a party sweatshirt, Mr. Mandela walked slowly onto the stage at the Coca-Cola sports stadium in Johannesburg and took his seat. A message he had recorded earlier was then played to the crowd of nearly 200,000.

Beside him sat Jacob Zuma, the man who is set to become South Africa’s next president, in the most controversial election since the advent of democracy in 1994.

“We must remember our primary task,” Mr. Mandela said, insisting that the goal should always be to end poverty and secure a better life for all. He also called on the electorate to give ANC “a decisive victory.”

Analysts say the ANC is unlikely to retain its current two-thirds majority in Parliament, the figure required to change the country’s constitution at will. In 2004, the ANC took almost 70 percent of the vote.

In the past year, the ANC has split, with former chairman Mosiuoa Lekota leaving to create his own party, the Congress of the People (COPE), while Mr. Zuma has battled corruption, fraud and money-laundering allegations.

All charges were withdrawn by the state prosecutor last month in a move that opposition groups say is politically motivated.

Across the country, political groups drew thousands to multiracial rallies that would have been unthinkable just two decades ago under the apartheid policies of a white-minority government.

In Polokwane, 190 miles north of Johannesburg, Mr. Lekota told a COPE rally that a Zuma-led ANC was betraying the decades-long struggle that ended apartheid.

“Corruption, cronyism and nepotism have become the order of the day,” he said, while his deputy, Mbhazima Shilowa, went further, calling for the charges against Mr. Zuma to be reinstated.

Rallies by COPE, the largely Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party and the Democratic Alliance — which secured the largest non-ANC vote of 12.37 percent at the 2004 election — failed to draw the numbers of people who flocked to see Mr. Mandela and Mr. Zuma.

Opinion polls give COPE between 8 percent and 15 percent of the vote.

Back in Johannesburg, Mr. Zuma appealed for unity in a country that has 11 official languages among a population of just 45 million, and tried to calm the fears of minorities, including an estimated 5 million whites.

“We reaffirm that South Africa belongs to all of us, black and white,” he said. “Working together, we will ensure that no South African ever feels they are less valued than others because of their race, culture or religion.”

Mr. Zuma’s first five-year term will not be easy. Global recession has seen a decline in exports and foreign investment. The South African Communist Party and a host of left-wing unions, which have been campaigning for a Zuma victory, will seek tougher employment laws that could harm business.

ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe told a Cape Town weekend newspaper that, despite the “massive” support his party had received from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), there was no guarantee that a Zuma government would grant special favors to the labor movement.

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