(Bloomberg) -- South Africa’s ruling African National Congress said it will step up efforts to create jobs, grow the economy and increase access to welfare grants and health care as it kicked off its campaign for an election that will the sternest test yet of its three decades in power. 

The party will ensure fiscal and monetary policy are better coordinated and that the tax system is fine-tuned with a view toward uplifting the country’s people, it said in its election manifesto, unveiled in Durban in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province on Saturday. South Africans go to the polls May 29. 

The party also pledged to transform the financial sector to ensure it makes adequate financing available for industrialization and economic development, provides affordable credit, and invests in infrastructure and job creation.

“We have on several occasions stated publicly that we have made some mistakes as the ANC,” President Cyril Ramaphosa told more than 56,000 cheering supporters who packed the port city’s Moses Mabhida stadium. “Now the ANC is working hard to restore your trust and your confidence in us as the leader of fundamental socioeconomic transformation in our society.”

Founded in 1912, the ANC is Africa’s oldest political movement and has ruled South Africa outright since apartheid ended in 1994. The party won plaudits during the the first half of its rule for growing the economy and expanding access to running water, electricity and welfare grants. Its performance deteriorated markedly during Jacob Zuma’s almost nine-year tenure as president, which was marred by a succession of corruption scandals, inappropriate appointments, and policy missteps.  

The ANC forced Zuma to step down in early 2018 to stem the loss of support and replaced him with Ramaphosa, who’s struggled to come to grips on chronic electricity shortages, logistics constraints and rampant graft. A series of opinion polls show support for the party slipping below 50%, meaning it would have to enter into a coalition with one or more rivals to continue governing. 

The ANC’s other campaign pledges include phasing in a permanent monthly income grant for the vulnerable, implementing a national health insurance plan that’s awaiting Ramaphosa’s sign-off, and creating 2.5 million “job opportunities” though community programs. It also undertook to step up the development of new infrastructure, especially in power projects that are needed to end rolling blackouts. 

With three months before the election, it would be premature to write the off the ANC, which remains a formidable force with the biggest nationwide presence of any party, said Mike Davies, the founder of political-advisory company Kigoda Consulting.

“There’s still a loyal ANC voting bloc that we can’t discount,” he said in an interview in Cape Town. “A lot will depend on the voter turnout and whether the party manages to get its supporters to come and cast their ballots.” 

Election Battleground

South Africa’s second-most populous province, KwaZulu-Natal, will be a key battleground. Its townships were rocked by violence in the 1990s, and the ANC and Inkatha Freedom Party jointly governed there after the 1994 vote before ruling party secured outright control.

While support for the ANC peaked at 65% in the province during Zuma’s tenure, the party has increasingly lost ground to a resurgent IFP — which has won a number of recent municipal by-elections.  

The newly formed uMkhonto WeSizwe party, backed by Zuma, also poses a threat. It’s drawn big crowds to rallies and had a strong showing in the first municipal by-election it contested.  

Zuma was jailed in 2021 for refusing to testify before a judicial commission that spent four years investigating graft during his rule, but was freed on medical parole after serving less than two months of his sentence and Ramaphosa pardoned him last year. Despite the concession, Zuma said he couldn’t support the ANC under Ramaphosa’s leadership, leading the party to suspend him from its ranks in January.   

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