South Africa: Who Are South Africa's Presidential Candidates?

President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Nearly 28 million South Africans will head to the polls on May 29 for a much-anticipated general election. These are the main contenders to watch.

The current South African president and leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), Cyril Ramaphosa, is still hopeful that he and his party will come out on top in the upcoming election.

Ramaphosa took over the reins from former President Jacob Zuma in 2018 who was infamously embroiled in a corruption scandal and faces multiple charges of racketeering, fraud, tax evastion and money laundering.

The 71-year-old promised a new dawn for South Africa but critics say he has failed to deliver. Under his watch unemployment has reached record highs, pushing the ANC towards what is expected to be its worst election result ever.

This year's election weighs particularly heavy on the ANC because if the party does lose its majority votes, it will be forced into a coalition to form a government. This would mark a first for the party three decades after coming to power under revered anti-apartheid activist, Nelson Mandela.

Here are some of the other key contenders who could make serious political waves on May 29.

Julius Malema

The 43-year-old founded the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party in 2013 after being expelled from the ANC on the grounds of inciting divisions and bringing the party into disrepute. He served as the president of the Youth League at the ANC.

The EFF has over the years gained prominence by advocating for radical reforms, including land redistribution and nationalizing key economic sectors to tackle deep inequalities.

A controversial figure in South African politics, Malema has been variably described as both a reckless populist and a future leader of the country.

John Steenhuisen

Steenhuisen rose through the ranks of the Democratic Alliance (DA) party before being appointed as their leader in 2020.

The 48-year-old took over after two senior black South African leaders resigned from the party, one of them citing difficulties expanding the DA's appeal beyond its traditionally white South African base.

The DA leads a multi-party coalition aiming to unseat the ANC. But Steenhuisen has struggled to shed his party's white, middle-class identity and broaden its appeal.

Zuma: Barred by high court

Earlier this week, South Africa's top court barred former president Jacob Zuma from running in the general election.

"It is declared that Mr. Zuma was convicted of an offense and sentenced to more than 12 months' imprisonment ... and is accordingly not eligible to be a member of, and not qualified to stand for election to, the National Assembly," the ruling stated.

Zuma fell out with his successor, Ramaphosa, and is now fronting uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), a new opposition party named after the paramilitary wing of the ANC during apartheid. The 82-year-old still enjoys popular support, particularly in his home province's battleground of KwaZulu-Natal.

South Africa's electoral commission said that Zuma's photograph would remain on the ballot paper as he is the registered leader of MK. However, his name would be removed from the list of parliamentary candidates nominated by MK.

Other notable candidates

Other notable contenders include former DA leader, Mmusi Maimane, who now fronts Build One South Africa, a new liberal party.

Former Johannesburg mayor, Herman Mashaba, who made his fortune selling African hair-care products before entering politics, heads ActionSA. The party has formed a coalition with the DA. He has refered to himself as a "capitalist crusader."

The coalition also includes the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) led by Velenkosini Hlabisa, who took over from the party's controversial late leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

Another member of the coalition is the Afrikaner Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus) party, headed by Pieter Groenewald.

Ex-journalist Songezo Zibi fronts Rise Mzansi, a center-left group, and Gayton Mckenzie, a convicted-robber-turned-motivational-speaker, is the leader of the right-wing, anti-immigration Patriotic Alliance.

A total of 70 political parties and 11 independent candidates will contest the national and provincial elections. The national ballot will have 52 parties listed.

Edited by: Ineke Mules

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