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South African Parties Hold Final Rallies Before Wednesday's Elections

Political parties in South Africa have held their final rallies as the nation prepares for national and provincial elections on Wednesday.

As South Africa's electoral campaign entered its final days, more than 100,000 people filled two sports stadiums in Johannesburg to hear the leader of the ruling African National Congress, Jacob Zuma, promise to build a nation free of racial, cultural or religious discrimination.

"Comrades, we have achieved a lot over the last 15 years," said Zuma. "There is still much more to be done. Working together we can do more to build a better life for all."

He said the ANC's five priorities would be to improve education, health services and living conditions in rural areas and to combat crime and corruption.

Zuma's campaign was boosted by the presence of former president and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, who delivered a pre-recorded message.

"In the upcoming elections, let us remember our primary task. It is to eradicate poverty and ensure a better life for all," said Mr. Mandela.

The leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, Helen Zille, urged enthusiastic supporters Saturday to vote against the ANC, which has been tainted by corruption scandals and accusations of abuse of power.

"You will choose to defend the constitution because that is all we have to protect all of our people from the ANC's power abuse. You will choose to help fight corruption. You know that corrupt leaders make poor people poorer," said Zille.

Leaders of the four month-old Congress of the People, or COPE, at a rally in the northeastern part of the country, criticized what they view as a decline of morality and ethics in the ANC-led government.

COPE was formed by disgruntled ANC leaders who split after the ANC obliged former President Thabo Mbeki to resign six months before the end of his term.

Another veteran opposition leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, urged supporters to return his Inkatha Freedom Party to power in eastern Kwa Zulu-Natal province.

"Will you go with what you know works? Or will you accept to eat more of the bitter meat of the ANC? This is the chance to inspire hope, my dear comrades, in Kwa Zulu-Natal. And things can change here and they must change," said Buthelezi.

Several-dozen parties are competing in Wednesday's elections to choose a new parliament and provincial assemblies.

The ANC is expected to win the vote, making Zuma the country's next president. But opposition parties are campaigning hard to gain control of some provincial assemblies and deprive the ANC of its two-thirds majority in parliament.