Page last updated at 17:37 GMT, Sunday, 19 April 2009 18:37 UK

Mandela boost for ANC supporters


Nelson Mandela was cheered by supporters

Former South African president Nelson Mandela has made an unexpected appearance at the governing ANC party's final pre-election rally.

Wearing an ANC top, Mr Mandela, 90, was cheered by supporters ahead of a speech by party leader Jacob Zuma.

Mr Zuma is expected to become president after Wednesday's poll, the most competitive since the end of apartheid in South Africa in 1994.

Breakaway party Cope was also holding its final rally, in Limpopo province.

The BBC's Peter Biles, in Johannesburg, says Cope - The Congress of the People - has changed the political landscape since it was launched four months ago.

The latest opinion polls suggest that Cope, made up largely of former African National Congress members, could get as much as 15% of the national vote.

Cope officials used the closing campaign rallies to criticise corruption involving ANC officials.

"The ruling party has over the past few years demonstrated its defiance of the constitution and disdain for the rule of law," said deputy president Mbhazima Shilowa.

"Corruption, cronyism and nepotism have become the order of the day."

'Tougher fight'

Crowds at the ANC's Johannesburg rally broke into rapturous applause as Mr Mandela came into the Ellis Park stadium in a golf cart, alongside Mr Zuma.

Nelson Mandela at an ANC rally, 19 April 2009

Our correspondent says the rare public appearance by Mr Mandela is the biggest possible endorsement of Mr Zuma, and conjures up memories of Nelson Mandela's last active campaign in 1994, when South Africa held its first democratic elections.

South Africa's first black president urged the ANC to remember its main task was to eradicate poverty and build a united, non-racial society.

"As we strive to secure a decisive victory for our organisation in the upcoming elections we must remember our primary task. It is to eradicate poverty and ensure a better life for all," he said in a brief pre-recorded message played as he sat on the stage.

"The ANC has the historical responsibility to lead our nation and help build a united non-racial society," he added.

Mr Zuma stressed the message of racial unity in his opening remarks to the rally.

Cope supporters rally in Limpopo

"We reaffirm that South Africa belongs to all of us, black and white," he said.

"Working together we will ensure that no South African ever feels they are less valued than others because of their race, culture or religion."

He dismissed the fears of those who had suggested the emergence of Cope would break the ANC's dominance of South African electoral politics, and pledged the party would remain a force for good if re-elected.

"In 15 years that it has been in power, the ANC has never used its electoral mandate to change the constitution, and it has no intentions to do so.

"We'll always uphold, defend, promote and protect the constitution of our country and all our democratic institutions," Mr Zuma said.

Fears over influence

The ANC is hoping to repeat the success of five years ago, when it secured a two-thirds majority in parliament, but this time, it is going to be a lot tougher, our correspondent says.

On Saturday, thousands attended a Cape Town meeting of the official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance.

Jacob Zuma
Mr Zuma is expected to become South Africa's president

Leader Helen Zille told supporters: "Every vote counts in this election, every single vote, because your vote may be the one that keeps the ANC under that two-thirds majority, and your vote - especially here in this stadium today - your vote may be the very one that wins the Western Cape for the DA."

The DA fears that if the ANC achieves the two-thirds majority, it might use it to change the constitution to influence the independence of the judicial system.

Ms Zille also made frequent reference to criminal charges of corruption and racketeering brought against Mr Zuma which he denies and which were dismissed earlier this month.

The BBC's Andrew Walker, at the ANC rally in Johannesburg, said Mr Zuma made some remarks on the judiciary - suggesting it could undergo changes if the ANC was returned to power.

These would not infringe its independence, but enable it to work more quickly, Mr Zuma said.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) reports that more than 23 million people, including 16,000 of the South African diaspora, have registered to vote in what is being seen as the most important election since the end of apartheid.

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