Opposition Democratic Alliance party leader john Steenhuisen waves at supporters...

Opposition Democratic Alliance party leader john Steenhuisen waves at supporters in Pretoria, South Africa, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, for their national manifesto launch in anticipation of the 2024 general elections. Credit: AP/Jerome Delay

PRETORIA, South Africa — Thousands of South Africans gathered in the capital Saturday to show support for the country’s biggest opposition party as it prepares for a much-anticipated national election in which it hopes to wrest control of the government from the ruling African National Congress.

Many of the Democratic Alliance backers assembled in the Union Buildings, the official seat of South Africa's government in Pretoria, expressed faith the party would deliver better basic services and address some of the country’s daunting challenges.

These include a worsening electricity crisis that has caused rolling power blackouts for households and businesses on a daily basis. Participants at the Democratic Alliance conference also highlighted South Africa's unemployment rate of over 32%, with the party promising to create at least 2 million new jobs if it prevails in this year's general election.

The date for the National Assembly and provincial elections has not been set, but it is expected to be sometime between May and August.

Democratic Alliance supporters marched through the streets of the capital before listening to a spirited speech by party leader John Steenhuisen, who vowed to unseat the African National Congress and accused President Cyril Ramaphosa of enabling corruption by ANC members and leaders.

South Africa’s upcoming elections have been touted as one of the toughest yet for the ruling party, with recent polls suggesting the ANC may receive less than 50% of the national vote for the first time since the country's white minority rule ended in 1994.

During the 2019 elections, the Democratic Alliance received just over 20% of the national vote to remain the second-biggest party in the country after the ANC. The party is now exploring the the possibility of forming a governing coalition with several other opposition parties in order to remove the ANC from power if they together win more than 50% of the national vote.

South African sympathisers of the Democratic Alliance opposition party gather...

South African sympathisers of the Democratic Alliance opposition party gather in Pretoria, South Africa, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, for their national manifesto launch in anticipation of the 2024 general elections. Credit: AP/Jerome Delay

“By bringing an end to opposition infighting and consolidating like-minded parties into a cohesive bloc, this formation offers voters the best prospect for political change since 1994,” Steenhuisen told party loyalists Saturday.

Under South Africa's system of government, lawmakers elect the president, so a party or coalition with a majority in parliament control both the executive and legislative branches. If the ANC's support falls below 50% at the polls, the party would have to make deals with smaller parties to secure Ramaphosa's reelection.

Steenhuisen described the Democratic Alliance's manifesto as South Africa's “rescue plan." He said the Democratic Alliance had successfully delivered services in Western Cape province, home to the only provincial government not governed by the ANC.

Steenhuisen also vowed that the party would immediately end the country’s electricity crisis, which is having a negative impact on the South African economy. The Democratic Alliance proposed privatizing power generation and moving toward the use of more renewable sources.

South African nationals sympathisers of the Democratic Alliance opposition party...

South African nationals sympathisers of the Democratic Alliance opposition party gather in Pretoria, South Africa, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, for their national manifesto launch in anticipation of the 2024 general elections. Credit: AP/Jerome Delay

Steenhuisen further pledged to devote more resources to fighting gender-based violence and other crimes.

“We know that many parties are going to make promises when they campaign, but it is only the DA which can actually prove that they can deliver because they have a good track record in the Western Cape and Cape Town,” 20 year-old supporter Deacon Nortman said.

The African National Congress is set to unveil its party platform in KwaZulu-Natal province next week.

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