South African President Jacob Zuma looks set for re-election as head of the ruling ANC in December but the battle for the post of his deputy could thrust millionaire businessman and former unionist Cyril Ramaphosa back into political prominence. Despite sluggish growth in Africa’s biggest economy, bloody labour strife that dented South Africa’s image this year and a slew of scandals during Zuma’s three years in power, five of the country’s nine provinces are backing the president to stay on as leader of the African National Congress (ANC).
This line-up suggests Zuma has seen off a campaign to replace him with Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, whose own silence on whether he is in the running has opened up the chance of a political comeback by business tycoon Ramaphosa. Leadership of Nelson Mandela’s 100-year-old liberation movement would virtually guarantee Zuma another five years as state president in a 2014 election, given the support the ANC can still count on from South Africa’s black majority.
Nominations for top ANC leadership positions for the December 16-20 party conference close on Friday. Zuma, who ousted former President Thabo Mbeki in a fight to head the party in 2007, has obtained wide endorsement from ANC branches across five provinces, including his home KwaZulu-Natal, which will have the largest number of voting delegates at the conference in the central city of Mangaung. The expectation that Zuma will carry the ANC leadership race has taken some steam out of the contest and provides an element of political continuity, even though many have been critical of his lacklustre performance in office.
Zuma’s reputation as president was tarnished by criticism that his government mishandled a wave of violent mining strikes in recent months that saw at least 50 people killed, 34 of them striking miners shot by police in a single day in August. It was the deadliest labour violence since apartheid ended in 1994. Critics on the left within his own party accused the 70-year-old president, who is proud of his Zulu origins and likes to present himself as a genial ‘man of the people’, of abandoning poor and working class South Africans.