Mandela calls for unity at final ANC poll rally

Former South African president Nelson Mandela Sunday reminded the ANC of its duty to eradicate poverty and urged unity in a surprise appearance at its final election rally.

He set the tone for the theme of racial accord at the African National Congress gathering where chants of “Mandela! Mandela!” rang out from the crowd of more than 100,000 supporters at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg.

“As we strive to secure a decisive victory for our organisation in the upcoming elections, we must remember our primary task. It is to eradicate poverty and ensure a better life for all,” Mandela said.

“The ANC has the historical responsibility to lead our nation and help build a united non-racial society,” he added in a brief pre-recorded message played as he sat on the stage at the party’s last rally before Wednesday’s general election.

A deafening roar from the crowd echoed around the stadium as Mandela arrived accompanied by ANC leader and presidential favourite Jacob Zuma, who helped assist the frail 90-year-old to the stage.

Zuma followed with a message that South Africa belongs to both blacks and whites, 15 years after the fall of white-minority apartheid rule.

“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.”

His message came after several months of divisive politics and infighting within the ANC over his leadership, assuring supporters the party was as popular as ever.

Former president Thabo Mbeki, forced to resign by the ANC following a power struggle with Zuma, was not at the rally.

The ANC, which led a long but successful struggle against apartheid, is facing its toughest challenge ever at the ballot box from a breakaway opposition party, and it could lose its two-thirds legislative majority.

It is nevertheless expected to win with around 60 percent of the vote, and the mood at Sunday’s rally was celebratory in anticipation of victory.

In the face of criticism over delivery of public services, Zuma outlined the ANC’s priorities for education, health, unemployment, crime and land reform, and pledged not to alter the constitution if it keeps a two-thirds majority.

“We will invest in rural infrastructure and services, and strive to ensure that rural people have access to decent schools, roads, electricity, water and health care facilities,” he said

Zuma danced and sang “Awuleth’ Umshini wani” (Bring my Machine Gun) and chanted slogans under the scorching sun, as half a million people followed proceedings at venues around South Africa.

He assured supporters that Mandela had asked to attend the rally, after the party was accused of dragging the elderly statesman to a meeting in the Eastern Cape earlier in their campaign.

“He came out of retirement at his age to boost the election effort,” said Zuma.

Zuma has recently escaped an eight-year case of corruption and fraud, as prosecutors decided there had been political interference in the charges against him. Many still fear his presidency bodes ill for the nation.

Smaller opposition leaders also staged rallies across the country, urging their supporters to vote and stop the ANC from gaining a majority.

Opposition leader Helen Zille told her supporters to vote for the Democratic Alliance to prevent the country from being destroyed, “like Zimbabwe”.

Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) president, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, urged his followers to vote to preserve multi-party democracy in the country.

And the leader of the newly formed Congress of the People (COPE) lambasted the ANC for what he called buying votes from desparate people by promising them food parcels in exchange for votes.

“This is the kind of corruption that COPE wants to fight,” siad Mvume Dandala.