December 22, 2008 / 2:52 PM / 11 years ago

South African union group pledges to rally behind ANC

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s biggest labor group on Monday praised the ruling ANC for shifting its economic policy focus to fighting poverty and said it would work to boost the party’s parliamentary majority in the 2009 election.

Supporters cheer Jacob Zuma, president of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), at a rally in Langa township near Cape Town, November 9, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Investors fear the left has gained influence over the African National Congress in the past year and believe it might pressure the government to ditch policies that helped spur nearly a decade of growth in Africa’s biggest economy.

COSATU said the ANC, which is facing an unprecedented challenge from a breakaway party, had done well to focus on job creation and poverty eradication under the leadership of Jacob Zuma, who took the ruling party’s top job a year ago.

“This is why COSATU is fully committed to mobilizing its two million members and their families to make sure the ANC is re-elected with an even bigger majority and to implement its progressive manifesto with vigor and determination,” it said in a statement.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions and the smaller Communist Party backed Zuma when he beat former South African President Thabo Mbeki for the ANC leadership last year. Mbeki was ousted as president in September.

While Zuma has courted the left’s support, he has tried to reassure investors that there will be no dramatic policy changes if he becomes president after the election, which is expected in March or April, 2009.

The ANC, which has governed since the end of apartheid in 1994, has been rocked by a wave of defections since it removed Mbeki, who was accused of trying to smear Zuma with a corruption case.

A number of Mbeki loyalists have formed a new party called the Congress of the People (COPE). Last week, COPE leader Mosiuoa Lekota said maintaining economic growth would be the linchpin of the party’s campaign.

Although it would be hard pressed to defeat the ANC, the new party could gain enough black votes to deny it an absolute parliamentary majority.

A judge dismissed bribery, fraud and other charges against Zuma in September, but prosecutors have appealed the ruling and have said they are ready to charge the ANC leader again.

Editing by Matthew Tostevin

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