Ramaphosa putting up a fight as the ghost of Zuma lingers over the ANC
President Cyril Ramaphosa will try his best to drum up support for the ANC to not fall below the psychological threshold of 60% in the upcoming vote after the party suffered a bloody nose under the scandal-ridden presidency of Jacob Zuma, analysts say.
The ANC will launch its election campaign on Saturday ahead of polls in May that it is tipped to win despite recently falling support, internal divisions and a sluggish economy.
The party, which has ruled since the end of apartheid 25 years ago, suffered a sharp decline in popularity under Zuma, who was ousted last February after nine years at the helm.
The party won a record low of 54% of the vote and lost control of the major cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria in 2016 local elections.
But a recent IPSOS survey predicted that the ANC could garner as much as 61% of the vote in May's national and provincial elections.
The forecast upswing is pinned on the appointment of moderate pro-business reformer Ramaphosa as president after Zuma was forced to resign as corruption scandals piled up.
"If there was no Ramaphosa, the ANC was not going to win this election," Xolani Dube, a political analyst at the Durban-based Xubera think-tank, told AFP.
"ANC was on the brink of losing these elections and Ramaphosa came as a saviour."
Other analysts are more cautious, saying that the ANC could win even without Ramaphosa, but with a significantly reduced majority.
On Saturday, the party expects 85 000 activists to turn out at a soccer stadium in Durban for the launch of its election manifesto.
Senior party officials have this week fanned out across the surrounding KwaZulu-Natal province, canvassing for support.
Launching its election manifesto in heavily populated KwaZulu-Natal - Zuma's home province and former stronghold - is a strategic choice, seen as an attempt to unite the ANC after last year's power struggle.
Ramaphosa has publicly tried to mend ties, sitting next to Zuma and praising him at party events this week.
"Ramaphosa needs to deal with the ghost of Jacob Zuma that is roaming around ANC structures," Dube said.
Ramaphosa admitted this week that the party had endured "significant reversals, decline and drift".
"We find ourselves at another key moment in our history, where we are called upon to restore the movement," he said in an address marking 107 years since the party was founded.
In policy terms, the manifesto is set to underline the ANC's commitment to land reform to tackle racial inequality - setting the stage for one of the election's fiercest battlegrounds.
One of Ramaphosa's flagship pledges is to change the constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation.
The manifesto will also "emphasise unity and organisational renewal because they know their recent history has not been a good one", said University of South Africa professor Somadoda Fikeni.
An electoral win with more than 60% would bolster the ANC's confidence.
"They could see that as a recovery mode on which they could build. The biggest psychological threshold is if they fall below 60%, that is what they will be worried about," Fikeni said.
The South African economy is forecast to have grown just 0.7% last year, with unemployment remaining at record highs of over 27%.
The ANC will face the main opposition Democratic Alliance and the radical leftist Economic Freedom Fighters party in the election, but both parties have struggled to dent the ruling party since Zuma's fall.
"In essence... the elections in 2019 will be fought between those who believe that ANC under Ramaphosa can rid itself of corruption and those who believe it cannot," wrote journalist Jan-Jan Joubert, author of "Who Will Rule in 2019?"
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