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South African govt faces fierce calls to nationalize mines, shift economic policy to the left

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Influential South African political groups are demanding a leftward shift in the country's market-friendly policies — including nationalizing mines — which they say have left too many citizens jobless and poor.

In the lead-up to a policy review next week, the country's largest trade union group has called for a radical change in policy. The youth wing of the governing African National Congress is calling for mines to be nationalized. Mining of gold, platinum and coal is a pillar of South Africa's economy.

The South African Communist Party has called for a state-owned mining company, but not the complete nationalization supported by the ANC Youth League.

The ANC and its allies will meet next week in Durban for a trial run for building a platform for the next general elections in 2014. Business groups will be watching closely.

The party has won every election since the first multiracial vote in 1994 but relies on support from the trade union bloc and from the communist party. The ANC's youth wing is known for getting voters to the polls.

Analysts say the ruling party will feel pressure to bow to supporters' demands before the 2014 election.

The union bloc and the communist party — whose members sit on key ANC leadership bodies and in the ANC Cabinet — helped engineer the ascendance of President Jacob Zuma in acrimonious 2007 party elections.

Economist Zamikhaya Maseti said he expects "a radical ANC government to emerge after the party 2012 conference and beyond" because of pressure from the left. Others, though, expect the general free market trends to hold.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions asked for more state intervention in currency rates and redistribution of income. It also proposed the formation of a state bank.

The union bloc says Zuma isn't fulfilling pledges to create decent jobs — in the face of unemployment of at least 24 percent — and share the country's wealth equitably. It says the Zuma administration is too wedded to market-friendly policies.

"We are headed in the direction of a full-blown predator state, in which a powerful, corrupt and demagogic elite of political hyenas increasingly controls the state," the bloc, known as Cosatu, said in a statement. "The ANC-led government should focus on redistribution of income and power in favor of the working class."

Cosatu's general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, who recently led 1.3 million public service workers on a debilitating three-week wage strike, has hinted at a possible withdrawal of Cosatu's support for the ANC at the polls.

But political analyst Adam Habib, based at the University of Johannesburg, said he thinks the tensions ahead of Monday's conference are "mere skirmishes and not serious battles" between those who want to retain market policies and socialists.

He added that he thinks it unlikely that mines will be nationalized.

"The youth league doesn't have the power it thinks it has," he said.