Former South Africa leader Zuma promises jobs and free education as he launches party manifesto

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Former South African President Jacob Zuma Saturday lamented the high levels of poverty among black South Africans and promised to create jobs and tackle crime as he launched his new political party's manifesto ahead of the country's much anticipated elections.

He told thousands of supporters who gathered at Orlando Stadium in Johannesburg that his party would build factories where many people would be employed and provide free education to the country's youth.

“We want our children to study for free, especially those from poor households because the poverty we have was not created by us. It was created by settlers who took everything, including our land. We’ll take all those things back, make money and educate our children,” he said.

He has also pledged to change the country's Constitution to restore more powers to traditional leaders, saying their role in society has been reduced by giving more powers to magistrates and judges.

Zuma's uMkhonto weSizwe party, known as the MK Party, has emerged as a significant player in South Africa's upcoming elections after it was launched in December last year.

He is currently involved in a legal battle with the country's electoral authority, the Independent Electoral Commission. He has appealed against a court judgment which barred him from standing in the election because of his criminal record.

Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison for defying a court order to appear before a judicial commission of inquiry which was probing corruption allegation in government and state-owned companies during his presidential term from 2009 to 2018.

In 2018, he was forced to resign as the country's president following wide-ranging corruption allegations, but he has made a political return and is now seeking to become the country's president again.

“When they talk about unemployment, they are talking about us, there is nobody else. When they talk about people who leave in shacks, that is us, there is nobody else who lives in shacks except us,” Zuma told his supporters, many of whom had travelled from other provinces like Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, where he still enjoys significant support.

Poverty among black people is the reason behind South Africa's high levels of crime, according to the former president.

“Our hunger and poverty is what creates a perception that we are criminals, we don't have a brain, we have nothing. That time is over, because we are good people who are giving, but some people are pushing us towards criminality,” he said.

Zuma said his party was aiming to get more than 65% of the national vote in the upcoming elections as it would allow them to change many laws in the country's constitution.

Recent polls and analysts have suggested that the ruling African National Congress might get less than 50% of the vote and would need to form a coalition with smaller parties to remain in power.

South Africans will go to the polls on May 29.