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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

ANC ruling boosts prospects for Cyril Ramaphosa 

Zuma personally anointed ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as successor but ANC overwhelmingly back the deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa

Cyril Ramaphosa, 65, a former trade union leader, led the historic negotiations in the 1990s to end apartheid before launching a business career that made him one of the country's wealthiest men. AFP PHOTO / MUJAHID SAFODIEN
Cyril Ramaphosa, 65, a former trade union leader, led the historic negotiations in the 1990s to end apartheid before launching a business career that made him one of the country's wealthiest men. AFP PHOTO / MUJAHID SAFODIEN

Thousands of delegates from South Africa's ANC party gathered Saturday for a five-day meeting to elect their new leader in a divisive race seen as a pivotal moment in the country's post-apartheid history.

As South Africa’s ruling party prepared to elect its new leader yesterday there were signs that the candidate backed by President Jacob Zuma was in serious trouble.

Mr Zuma had personally anointed his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as his successor but ANC branches have so far overwhelmingly backed the deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa. A number of court challenges were upheld to disqualify Zuma-aligned provinces from the voting.

The 5,000 delegates started voting on Saturday and the announcement of a victor is expected on Sunday.

Despite an attempt to ban factional songs, the ANC Eastern Cape delegates sang victory songs against Mrs Dlamini-Zuma.

While supporters put on brave faces in defence of the former African Union chairman, the display did not convince many. Even a signature policy announcement that was trailed as boost to her position - the announcement of free higher education for students from poor backgrounds - was announced instead by Mr Zuma. Commentators said the surprise declaration was a last ditch effort to secure backing for Mrs Dlamini-Zuma.

Mr Ramaphosa, 65, a former trade union leader, led the historic negotiations in the 1990s to end apartheid before launching a business career that made him one of the country's wealthiest men.

He is often accused of failing to confront the current leader while serving as the deputy since 2014.

Mr Zuma's two terms have been marred by graft scandals and while he will step down as ANC chief, he is set remain as head of state ahead of general elections in 2019.

The 68-year should have a formidable claim to the top job. She is arguably an ideal candidate to become South Africa’s first woman: as a stalwart of the liberation movement she has a proven track record in the public service under several portfolios. Mrs Dlamini-Zuma has international experience at the African Union Commission.

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But her stature as been undermined by the factional divisions in the ANC. She cannot shake off her association to Mr Zuma and his cronies, most notably the links to notorious Gupta family that has bankrolled the president. The Indian immigrants have become synonymous with corruption involving state funds, and even have one of President Zuma’s sons as a business associate. Public opinion has worked against Mrs Dlamini-Zuma and the fact that opinion makers who are vouching for her to win are those with ties to the Guptas.

Amanda Gouws, a politics professor at Stellenbosch University, said that the thousands of party delegates could be offered bribes for their votes, and that Mr Zuma was lobbying hard for Mrs Dlamini-Zuma to emerge victorious.

"Zuma is very afraid of being prosecuted after he leaves office if Dlamini-Zuma doesn't win, so he is really trying to make sure she does," she told AFP.

Mrs Dlamini-Zuma has strongly denied her campaign had been involved with vote-buying, saying "no leader will be proud of being elected out of money".

With tensions rising, Mr Ramaphosa said the party "should rally behind whoever is elected".

Tefu Velaphi, a 38-year-old delegate and building manager, told AFP: "Zuma's legacy is disastrous. He only cares about himself and his friends. We want them to be arrested.

"That lady will protect Zuma," he said, referring to Mrs Dlamini-Zuma.

But Matthew Tsepang, one of her supporters, said: "We can not judge a person by her previous life. She can be a former wife but have her independence. She is a capable leader."

The ANC uses an exhaustive process to elect its leaders. Delegates first vote in their branches, and then the consolidated branch votes are forwarded to the provinces where an official position is taken on who they want to lead. The consolidated provincial nominations are then forwarded to the national conference.

But the taint of corruption saw the removal of voting power from more than 500 delegates, one tenth of the total.

“The decision taken there is that the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Bojanala region [in the North West], all the structures that are nullified will not be voting delegates at conference," said Gwede Mantashe, the secretary general.