Julius Malema, 42, (C) founded the EFF in 2013 after being thrown out of the ANC

Durban (South Africa) (AFP) - Firebrand leftist politician Julius Malema on Saturday accused the ruling ANC of neglecting the country’s ills as he launched the party’s electoral campaign ahead of a hotly contested poll that could cost the ruling party its parliamentary majority.

Through the crippling power cuts (locally known as loadshedding) South Africa’s President Cyril “Ramaphosa is continuing to kill our people” he said as he unveiled the party’s manifesto theme: “Our land and jobs now. Stop loadshedding”.

He also accused the African National Congress (ANC) of “economic apartheid”.

In a country plagued by an energy crisis, lacklustre economy and high unemployment, some 27.5 million registered South Africans will vote for a new parliament who will then vote in a new president.

The election is to be held on a date between May and August.

“We want political power to use it decisively” Malema declared, promising 4 million new jobs and an end power cuts within 6 months in office.

Opposition parties in recent months have been actively seeking to unseat the ANC.

The country’s official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), which in recent years has struggled to stave off its white, middle-class identity and win over black voters, has formed a coalition with several other groups.

But it has refused to join forces with the EFF, citing stark differences.

- Radical and militant -

Actively targeting universities and young voters, the militant party has won a string of student body votes in recent years

Renowned for its theatrics, the EFF has gained prominence advocating radical reforms including land redistribution and nationalising key economic sectors to tackle deep inequalities that persist more than three decades after the end of apartheid.

“We are fighting an evil spirit of a white settler inside Ramaphosa,” he accused the country’s president.

Describing itself as a “radical and militant economic emancipation movement”, the party draws inspiration from Marxism-Leninism and has notably displayed its support for Russia after the invasion of Ukraine in early 2022.

The flags of the African Union and Cuba hung around the stadium.

In recent years support for the party has since grown, largely among young, black South Africans angered by widespread poverty and unemployment.

Actively targeting universities and young voters, the militant party has won a string of student body votes in recent years, enlisting celebrities and influencers to spread its message.

Some polls show it battling with the liberal DA for second place behind the ANC.

A recent Ipsos survey put the two parties tied at between 17 and 20 percent.

“Malema is popular because he has risen up as a person who openly challenges authority head on for failing to liberate black people,” independent political analyst Sandile Swana told AFP.

The choice of Durban to launch the campaign is significant as the port city is located in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province, South Africa’s second most populous and a key electoral battleground.

The ruling ANC is set to launch its own manifesto at the same venue in two weeks.

Malema, 42, founded the EFF in 2013 after being thrown out of the ANC, where he served as youth leader, for fomenting divisions and bringing the party into disrepute.

- ‘Freedom is coming’ -

An Economic Fredom Fighters (EFF) unveiled its manifesto theme: 'Our land and jobs now. Stop loadshedding'

Top MPs from the EFF were banned from this year’s address after storming the stage where Ramaphosa was waiting to deliver his State of the Nation Address last year.

In turn, the EFF boycotted the speech entirely on Thursday.

In power since the advent of democracy in 1994, the ANC risks losing its parliamentary majority for the first time, its reputation tainted by graft and mismanagement.

Polls show it could win as little as 40 percent of the vote – something that would force it to seek a coalition government to stay in power.

“We are in the 2024 election for nothing else but to win,” Malema said. “South Africa your freedom is coming tomorrow.”

The ANC currently holds 230 of the 400 seats (57.5 percent) in the National Assembly, while the DA holds 84 (20.8 percent) and the EFF 44 (10.8 percent).

Despite rainfall tens of thousands of people danced and sang to artists performing on stage in Durban’s 55,000-seat stadium following the leader’s speech.