President Jacob Zuma on Monday dismissed fears of a crisis in the ruling African National Congress after the country's largest trade union withdrew its support ahead of general elections.

Citing serious differences and the ANC's failure to deliver on promises, NUMSA last month withdrew its support in a move that was seen a serious blow to the ruling party.

But Zuma on Monday, in his first public reaction to the move, played down those fears saying "there is no crisis."

The union "has an absolute free right" to express its grievances, Zuma said at a breakfast meeting in eastern Mpumalanga province where he launched the party's election campaign at the weekend.

The 300,000-plus National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa is influential not only as a source of votes but also for cash and grassroots organising.

Since the end of apartheid in 1994, support from the trade union umbrella group COSATU -- of which NUMSA is the biggest member -- along with the Communist Party has helped the ANC coast to victory in every election.

Announcing on December 20 that it was severing ties with the ANC, NUMSA accused the party of using workers as "voting fodder".

Zuma vowed that the party would speak to the union to try patch up their differences and win back the hearts and support of the members and their associates.

NUMSA members are "comrades (who)... have got a different view for now. We don't agree with them" but "we are going to campaign them to vote for the ANC."

The ruling party's support has taken a dip in recent months amid weak economic performance, continued high unemployment and rampant corruption.

A recent Ipsos survey showed that support for the ANC had dropped by 10 percentage points from a year earlier to 53 percent.

In its election manifesto launched on Saturday, the ANC promised, among other measures, to step up the war against graft and to effect a "radical" economic transformation with the aim of creating six million jobs over the next five years.

 

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