Mmusi Maimane, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance: Picture: WALDO SWEIGERS/BLOOMBERG
Mmusi Maimane, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance: Picture: WALDO SWEIGERS/BLOOMBERG
Image: Waldo Swiegers

SA faces escalating unrest if the ANC retains power in May's election and fails to introduce major reform, DA leader Mmusi Maimane said on Thursday.

In the most hotly contested election since the end of apartheid, President Cyril Ramaphosa is hoping to reverse a slide in support for the ANC, which has won every general election since Nelson Mandela swept to power in 1994.

Ramaphosa has cast himself as a reformer but has been hampered by party infighting.

“If nothing changes radically now by the ballot box, … there will be more protests, and then who knows?” Maimane told reporters when asked whether SA faced a violent future.

"Fifty percent of young people in this country can't find work. They will act, give them the time," Maimane added. 

Opinion polls predict the ANC will hold onto its majority in the May 8 election, but they differ over its margin of victory.

The DA  elected Maimane as its first black leader in 2015 to widen its appeal and improved its national standing by winning control of several major cities in 2016.

But it has since become embroiled in internal disputes, and some analysts think Ramaphosa's reformist credentials will help the ANC eat into the DA's liberal support base.

Maimane said on Thursday that the DA had not done enough to capitalise on the failings of the ANC, whose reputation was tarnished by a series of corruption scandals under Zuma.

He criticised Ramaphosa's track record on reform.

"Fighting corruption isn't reforming … any government must do that," Maimane said.

An ANC spokesperson acknowledged receipt of questions from Reuters on Maimane's comments but did not respond.

The DA opposes ANC policy proposals like changing the constitution to facilitate land expropriation without compensation. It supports selling off stakes in struggling state firms to bolster their finances, whereas conservative parts of the ANC are suspicious of any form of privatisation.

The DA leader said one goal on May 8 was to bring the ANC's vote share below 50%, from 62% at the 2014 election.

"Then we will have a grand negotiation in SA about political reform," Maimane said. The DA received 22% of the vote in 2014.