- - Tuesday, May 6, 2014

JOHANNESBURG | Dogged by allegations of corruption in a country where millions exist on less than $2 a day and youth joblessness is close to 50 percent, the political party that Nelson Mandela led to break apartheid is seeing its popularity evaporate.

While polls point to another win for the ruling African National Congress in Wednesday’s parliamentary and provincial elections, there is pressure on President Jacob Zuma to arrest the party’s slide in popularity.

In December, Mr. Zuma — standing with heads of state including President Obama — was booed by crowds at a memorial ceremony in Johannesburg for Mandela, the country’s first black president.

At his closing rally Sunday at one of Johannesburg’s largest soccer stadiums, Mr. Zuma promised “more opportunities” for the poor and unemployed. But by the end of his speech, nearly half of the estimated crowd of 90,000 had walked out.

A total of 200 political parties have registered with the Independent Electoral Commission for the elections, the fifth since the end of white-minority rule in 1994. The most recent election in 2009 saw the African National Congress‘ first slide in the polls — to 65.9 percent, down from nearly 70 percent in 2004.

Recent polls show African National Congress support at less than 50 percent among South Africa’s 52 million people.

The Democratic Alliance party has most to gain if voters move away from the African National Congress. The Democratic Alliance already controls 67 of the 400 seats in Parliament, plus provincial government in the Western Cape under Premier Helen Zille.

At her final rally Saturday at the Coca-Cola Dome in Johannesburg, Ms. Zille asked supporters, “Is South Africa a better place than it was five years ago?” The crowd roared, “No!”

“Then give us a blue-nami,” she said, a play of words on the party’s blue posters and T-shirts.

In April, the state-run South African Broadcasting Corporation refused to air an Alliance ad that featured Mmusi Maimane, candidate for premier of Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria.

In the ad, Mr. Maimane attacks the ruling party as “an ANC that is corrupt” and “an ANC where more than 1.4 million people have lost jobs.” He also refers to a recent allegations that government has spent more than $20 million upgrading Mr. Zuma’s private home.

An independent broadcasting authority later ordered the South African Broadcasting Corporation to run the ad, which had gone vital on social media.

But a new party may stir things up in the next parliament.

Julius Malema, who was expelled from the African National Congress after being fired as head of its youth wing, has campaigned for the nationalization “without compensation,” of mines, banks and all land.

Supporters of his Economic Freedom Fighters wear red berets reminiscent of Ch Guavara, and Mr. Malema has urged them to follow the policies of President Robert Mugabe in neighboring Zimbabwe.

Since 2000, Mr. Mugabe has confiscated white-owned farms and ran what critics say has been a campaign of violence and intimidation. Zimbabwe, formerly one of the largest economies in Africa, is now ranked among the world’s poorest countries.

“The people of South Africa will decide how business is conducted in South Africa,” Mr. Malema told a rally on Sunday. “We are taking everything.”

Opinion polls give the Economic Freedom Fighters about 5 percent of the vote, enough to win a voice in Parliament.

If the African National Congress scores less than 60 percent, or if it loses control of Gauteng Province, there is speculation it could dump Mr. Zuma as leader.

This will be his second and last term under the constitution, but the African National Congress will need to make sure its falling support doesn’t push it out of power at the next poll in 2019.

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