Johannesburg - The new and the well established political parties will go head-to-head in Limpopo in the May 8 general elections, with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) on a mission to win more votes and reduce the African National Congress' (ANC) majority in South Africa's far north border province.
This year's elections are billed as the most crucial since South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994. The national ballot paper has a record 48 political parties,19 more parties compared to the 2014 general elections.
The Electoral Commission of South Africa's statistics show that Limpopo has 2,606,917 registered voters. At least 1,547,918 of them are female and 1,058,999 male.
The ANC is in charge in the Limpopo legislature with 39 seats, followed by the EFF with nine, while the Democratic Alliance (DA) has three seats. In 2014, the ANC received 78.97 percent of the votes cast, the EFF garnered 10.27 percent and the DA 6.6 percent.
The EFF, formed only in 2013, took over from the DA as the official opposition in the legislature. In the next elections two years later - the local government elections in 2016 - the red berets received 16.73 percent of Limpopo votes, while the DA got just over eight percent.
It remains to be seen whether the DA will be able to reclaim its second spot in the province as the militant EFF continues to grow in popularity, especially among young people.
Limpopo is also EFF leader Julius Malema's home province, and the firebrand politician is adamant that his party will take over from the ANC after May 8. He told journalists at a recent briefing in Johannesburg that his party will certainly govern in at least three provinces.
"We are the official opposition now in Limpopo and the North West, and we going to be in government. Before you become number one, you have to be number two ... we are number two in those provinces [after the ANC]...we are going to be number one. But it looks like we won' t be number two here in Gauteng...we will instead be number one," he said at the time.
True to their leader's words, the party has fashioned itself as the "government in waiting".
The streets of Malema's hometown Polokwane township of Seshego are adorned with huge EFF billboards and placards boldly bearing his face. Seshego is Malema's backyard and an EFF stronghold.
But the ANC under President Cyril Ramaphosa looks ready for the challenge of the red-shirted EFF. When Ramaphosa took his party's campaign to Seshego this week, the ANC campaign truck, stationed just a stone's throw away from Malema's home, attracted hundreds of supporters singing the ruling party's praises.
The president had earlier met with traditional leaders at the Moletši Moshate Tribal Council who endorsed his party.
Speaking to supporters in SePedi, Ramaphosa said it was clear that Seshego was the home of the ANC, and that ''smaller parties'' do not stand a chance against the ANC in Limpopo.
"There are small parties all over saying they are government in waiting. There is no such, it is the ANC only that is in waiting. They will see that ANC will continue to win, with even an increased majority," said Ramaphosa as he fired a shot across the EFF's bow.
But the ANC's task to gain more votes in Limpopo will not be an easy one despite the "Ramaphoria" that has boosted the ANC's popularity amid a myriad corruption scandals which have been linked to the party.
However, the EFF which garnered a popular following on the back of its incessant and over-the-top carping of former ANC president Jacob Zuma over his corruption-tainted rule, have their own skeletons in the form of the VBS banking scandal which saw large-scale looting of the mutual bank and allegations that leading EFF figures profited.
While a number of new political entrants will be trying to make an impression on the voting public over the next three weeks, the ANC in Limpopo will be keen to make up for lost lost ground, notably at Modimolle-Mookgopong and Thabazimbi municipalities where coalitions between the EFF, DA and Freedom Front Plus took control after the 2016 local government polls.
The municipal poll results were a serious blow to the governing party which up until then had consistently received overwhelming support in the province. In order to reclaim these votes - in the face of a determined onslaught from the EFF - the ANC has no other choice but to go back to Limpopo voters who rejected it in 2016 and present a convincing plea for a second chance.
African News Agency (ANA)