Graft-tainted former South African president Jacob Zuma staged a huge election rally on Saturday, vowing to return to power despite a legal challenge to his candidacy.
More than 30,000 supporters packed the Orlando Stadium in Soweto to hear their champion promise black South Africans more jobs and better wages.
“When we reach the final destination nobody will be poor, or unemployed, we are going to be doing things for all of us,” the 82-year-old declared to cheers.
The elderly party leader appeared tired as he arrived in the stadium, escorted by MK fighters in military fatigues and traditional Zulu warriors with spears and leopard skins.
But he rallied as he stepped forward to speak, leading the crowd in revolutionary song and speaking for more than an hour before launching into another chorus.
Between 2009 and 2018 Zuma served as a South Africa’s fourth president in the post-apartheid era and leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
But he left office under the shadow of a corruption probe and was jailed in 2021 for contempt of court, a decision that triggered a wave of riots that left 350 people dead. He has now launched a new party, uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), to challenge his ANC successor Cyril Ramaphosa for the presidency in the general election on May 29.
In South Africa, a president is chosen by newly elected MPs, but electoral authorities say he should be barred from standing because of the conviction.
The Constitutional Court has been called on to decide the matter after a lower tribunal found in Zuma’s favour, but Zuma’s supporters plan to push on regardless. There are concerns that if Zuma, still popular with many of his fellow Zulus, is declared ineligible at this late stage there may be another round of unrest.
But the party, named after the ANC’s armed wing during the anti-apartheid struggle, will remain on the ballot and could cut into Ramaphosa’s vote.
“We see him as our Moses from the religious text,” said 55-year-old job seeker Nomthandanzo Nhlapho. Observers do not credit the MK with much support outside Zuma’s native KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa’s key electoral battleground.
But at the stadium in Soweto, the symbolic heart of ANC support, speaker after speaker declared that the party was on course for a two-thirds super majority.
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