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Lots of yellow, little fever for disenchanted ANC supporters

By Umberto BACCHI - AFP
Africa Many ANC supporters came to the final rally before next week's general election with portraits of President Cyril Ramaphosa.  By Phill Magakoe (AFP)
SAT, 25 MAY 2024 LISTEN
Many ANC supporters came to the final rally before next week's general election with portraits of President Cyril Ramaphosa. By Phill Magakoe (AFP)

Tens of thousands of people wearing yellow T-shirts crowded Africa's biggest stadium Saturday, as the ruling but troubled African National Congress threw its last campaign bash before South Africa's tightest election in decades.

For hours through the morning, buses filled with flag-waving supporters from across the country streamed into the parking lot of Johannesburg's FNB stadium.

It was not enough to fill all the 94,000 seats, but inside the crowd happily hopped to the beat of amapiano and house music, entertained by live performers as it waited for President Cyril Ramaphosa.

"The ANC is my second God," said Katherine Mzuza, 48, sporting a polka dot hat in the party's colours, who came from the nearby township of Soweto, once a hotbed of anti-apartheid resistance.

"I grew up with the ANC, my blood is yellow, green and black," she said.

Named "Siyanqoba" -- Zulu for "to conquer" -- the rally was meant as a show of force by the party once led by Nelson Mandela, ahead of a general election next week where it is expected to score its worst result ever.

Silent laugh

Beset by corruption scandals, a sluggish economy, sky-high unemployment and rampant crime, the ANC has bled out droves of voters disillusioned after its 30 years in power.

It is projected to win about 40 percent of the vote, down from 57 percent in 2019, and be forced into a coalition government.

"On Wednesday the 29th, our people will decide whether our country continues moving forward with the ANC towards a better, brighter future, or backwards to a terrible past," Ramaphosa told the rally.

His face appeared on most people's shirts, but not everybody was a fan.

Some view the multimillionaire as too business-friendly and detached, and his speech, more than an hour long, failed to thrill, with many attendees leaving before its end.

"We are here for Mandela!" said Elizabeth Mzize, 74, who walked aided by a stick and wore a red flower hat and matching cardigan partially covering a yellow T-shirt emblazoned with Ramaphosa's portrait.

Asked if the 71-year-old was the right man to lead the country, she hunched forward with a grin, breaking into a silent laugh.

Yet many in the stands felt a debt of gratitude toward the movement that brought freedom to all South Africans, ending white-minority rule, that was too big to ignore.

"The ANC, those people, they were suffering, trying to take people from the pain they were in. So now we need to support them," said Nomea Njeto, 53, who said she was unemployed.

An ANC supporter with a mock coffin for the radical-left opposition group the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) of former ANC youth leader Julius Malema.  By Phill Magakoe (AFP) An ANC supporter with a mock coffin for the radical-left opposition group the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) of former ANC youth leader Julius Malema. By Phill Magakoe (AFP)

Like many others she preferred to focus on the positives of three decades of democracy.

The ANC brought free education and health care, and built houses for those who, like her, had none. It also created jobs, albeit not enough.

A huge Palestinian flag was unfurled at the centre of the stadium, reminding attendees of the government's recent legal victory at a world court that ordered Israel to halt its military operations in the Gaza city of Rafah.

"There are things that they are doing wrong but mostly they did right," Njeto said. "Today we are here to celebrate."

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