The African National Congress launched its manifesto for an election on Saturday in which it could finally face a serious political challenge from the Congress of the People breakaway faction.
Early on Saturday, thousands of supporters began arriving at the stadium in East London.
”People started coming in the early morning,” said ANC spokesperson Brian Sokutu, with 60 000 people — the stadium’s capacity — already present, and giant video screens set up to cater for the overflow.
”The entire East London has been painted yellow, black and green and there is just a sea of yellow T-shirts, people singing,” he said.
ANC president Jacob Zuma said the party’s manifesto was based on ‘clear objectives and achievable plansâ€.
Zuma said the programme requires the ‘continued democratisation of our society based on equality, non-racialism and non-sexism; national unity in diversity which is the source of our strength; building on the achievements and the experience since 1994,â€ and ‘an equitable, sustainable, and inclusive growth path that brings decent work and sustainable livelihoodsâ€.
Zuma also highlighted education, health, safe and secure communities, and rural development as well as targeted programmes for the youth, women, workers, rural masses, and people with disabilities.
Zuma said the policy’s of the party have ”pushed back the frontiers of poverty”.
”In 1996, only three million people had access to social grants. Today 12,5-million receive social grants. In 1996, only 34 000 children had access to social grants. Today, nearly eight million children younger than 14 years, receive social
”In 1996, 58% of the population gained access to electricity. Today, 80% do. In 1996, 62% of the population has access to running water. Today, 88% do.”
Zuma said 3,1-million subsidised houses had been built, including 2,7-million free houses for the poor, giving shelter to an additional 14-million people.
He said on average, half a million new jobs were added to the economy every year since 2004, reducing unemployment from 31% in 2003 to 23% in 2007.
He said the party had identified five priority areas for the next five years. These were, the creation of decent work and sustainable livelihoods, education, health, rural development, food security and land reform and the fight against crime and corruption.
He also said the ANC planned to reduce the rate of new HIV infections by 50% through an ”aggressive prevention campaign” and expand access to appropriate treatment, care and support to at
least 80% of all HIV-positive people and their families.
”We have achieved much in the last 15 years, but we are committed to do more. Working together we can do more. A vote for the ANC is vote for a better life for all,” Zuma said.
The party faces a challenge from Cope, set up in December by disillusioned former ANC activists.
Zuma acknowledged as much in a speech to supporters at a gala dinner Friday evening in East London marking the party’s 97th anniversary.
”We can expect this campaign to be robust and interesting,” said Zuma, while describing his party’s election manifesto as ”the product of 15 years of experience”.
Zuma is nevertheless seen as the front-runner for the presidency after having won control of the ANC from political rival Thabo Mbeki.
Zuma seized control of the ANC from Mbeki during the party’s conference in December 2007. In September 2008, his allies forced Mbeki to resign as the country’s president just months before the end of his second term.
The in-fighting exposed deep splits within the party that led the struggle against apartheid, giving birth to a breakaway movement headed by former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota, an Mbeki loyalist.
Mbeki himself, while still an ANC member, turned down an invitation from the ANC to attend Saturday’s manifesto launch.
Some ANC supporters here have already declared their allegiance to the new party and this is also where the Cope has chosen to launch its manifesto later this month. Meetings of the new party have been regularly disrupted by ANC supporters.
Some analysts believe that the Cope has a real chance of ending the ANC’s supremacy in the coming elections.
But Transport Minister Jeff Radebe was in a confident mood when he spoke to journalists in East London on Wednesday.
”This is the heartland of the ANC, which has for the past 97 years been in the forefront of the struggle for liberation.
”We are here to debunk any myth that the ANC support base in this area has been eroded,” he added.
”We’re on track to winning the elections with an overwhelming victory”, he said.