South Africa's election campaigning peaks in Johannesburg

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Campaigning for South Africa’s upcoming elections reached a climax Sunday with mass rallies by the ruling party and one of its most potent challengers, ahead of national polls for president and parliament Wednesday.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela which has been in power since apartheid ended 25 years ago, is expected to win the elections but is dogged by allegations of corruption and lackluster economic performance. The ANC’s margin of victory is expected to decline from the 62 percent of the vote it received in the previous elections in 2014.

Addressing the ANC’s final rally Sunday, Ramaphosa promised more jobs, economic growth and a drive against corruption at the rally.

“Our young people want jobs and they want them now,” said Ramaphosa, who promised to reduce the country’s unemployment rate of 27 percent. “We know what needs to be done to increase jobs, to grow the economy.”

He pledged to raise 1.4 trillion rand ($100 billion) to invest in the country’s economy to create jobs, especially for South Africa’s youth .

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Ramaphosa was speaking to thousands of ANC supporters wearing the party’s yellow, black and green colors at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park rugby stadium, which was nearly full its 62,000 capacity.

Ramaphosa came to power last year after previous president Jacob Zuma, also of the ANC, was forced to resign amid widespread scandals.

“We’ve taken decisive steps to fight corruption across the country,” said Ramaphosa. “The era of impunity is over. We are now in an era of accountability.”

However, the view that the ANC tolerates corruption is expected to hurt the party in the polls.

On the other side of Johannesburg, in in Soweto, the city’s largest black township, thousands gathered for a competing rally by the Economic Freedom Fighters, a populist, leftist party.

Firebrand leader Julius Malema said his party is the true bearer of the torch of Nelson Mandela, not the ANC.

“Mandela is resting peacefully there in Qunu (his rural burial place). He has passed the baton to the young generation, and those young people are in the EFF,” he told thousands at a packed Orlando Stadium.

According to Malema, for 25 years black South Africans had shown loyalty to the ruling ANC but the party’s leadership left the majority poor and without proper housing.

Malema has vowed to change the economic conditions of millions of black South Africans if they win the elections.

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Malema, who has campaigned on promises to expropriate white-owned land without compensation and to nationalize South Africa’s mines and banks, on Sunday promised to double welfare benefits for children and the elderly.

“Under an EFF government, black people will own productive farms. The mines and the banks must be in the hands of the people,” he said.

Recent polls have indicated the EFF may garner about 12% of the national vote, up from the 6% it won in the 2014 elections.

On Saturday, the biggest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, held its final campaign rally and criticized Ramaphosa and the ANC for looting the country through corruption.

“I am angry that the very people who were elected to lead us ended up stealing from us,” DA leader Mmusi Maimane told supporters at a rally in Soweto. “And what’s most offensive is that they stole from the poor.”

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