Zuma Moves to Squash Debate Over Leadership at Ruling Party Conference

South African President Jacob Zuma moved to stamp out a debate about his leadership of the ruling African National Congress amid criticism of economic policies that have left one in four people unemployed.

“We have no choice but to reintroduce revolutionary discipline in the ANC,” Zuma said in his opening address at a party policy conference in the eastern city of Durban today. “The time has come for the organization to act.”

Zuma won a five-year term as ANC leader in 2007 after ousting Thabo Mbeki with the backing of labor unions and the party’s youth wing. Since becoming president last year, his refusal to bow to demands, including the nationalization of mines and the scrapping of inflation targeting, has led the youth wing to indicate he isn’t assured of its support should he seek re-election as party leader in 2012.

“Mobilizing and lobbying for succession so early also gives the wrong impression that the ANC comprises of groups of people who are preoccupied with fighting for influential positions to advance personal interests,” Zuma said.

Most of the delegates in yellow shirts cheered and clapped whenever Zuma made calls for unity or attacked his detractors within the ruling alliance of the ANC, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party. He received a standing ovation at the end.

Youth League

“The bold headlines about the imminent death of the alliance are grossly exaggerated,” Zuma said. “It will live for a long time to come.”

Cosatu General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said Zuma “was spot-on. In terms of organizational discipline, 120 percent,” he said in an interview.

Julius Malema, head of the ANC’s Youth League, declined to comment when asked about Zuma’s speech. The youth wing has led the calls for nationalization of the country’s mines.

“Juniors must respect their seniors,” Zuma said in his speech. “Those who belong to junior structures must respect those who are serving in senior structures.”

The broad support Zuma enjoyed during his address showed he “seems to be in control for now,” Susan Booysen, a political analyst at the University of the Witwatersrand, said in an interview. “The ANC was anxious there was going to be some public display of acrimony and a fall-out.” This “is not going to happen. It seems like the youth league is being contained here,” she said.

Nationalization

Since Zuma took control of the ANC, the party has signed up 128,000 members, giving it a total of 749,112 members, a party document distributed to reporters showed.

Zuma made no reference to nationalization in his address, saying only that this week’s meeting would review progress in implementing policies agreed upon at the ANC’s last national conference in 2007 and wouldn’t deal with “new policies.”

The ANC has dominated South African politics since sweeping to power under Nelson Mandela in the country’s first all-race election in 1994. Prior to falling into a recession last year, the country experienced its longest period of economic growth on record. Still, a quarter of the workforce is unemployed and the income gap between rich and poor is among the widest in the world.

The party will spend the next five days discussing how to bolster growth, reduce poverty and improve access to public services, Zuma said. The members went into closed meetings after Zuma’s speech.

Exchange Rate

“The anticipated measures include appropriate fiscal and monetary-policy measures that are actively directed to promoting the largest number of jobs,” Zuma said. “These should be linked with measures to control inflation and improve efficiency across the economy, including through a more competitive and stable exchange rate.”

The rand has gained 32 percent against the dollar since the beginning of last year, undermining the competitiveness of the country’s exports.

The government must review its land policies to address ownership imbalances, with whites owning a disproportionately large numbers of farms, dating back to the apartheid era, Zuma said.

“Current approaches to land reform have not been moving as fast as desirable,” he said. “The willing-buyer, willing- seller approach to land acquisitions has constrained the pace and efficiency of land reform. Our target is to redistribute 30 percent of agricultural land by 2014.”

The ANC helped finance this week’s event by inviting companies to exhibit and attend addresses by several Cabinet ministers. Banks Absa Group Ltd. and Nedbank Group Ltd., and mobile phone companies MTN Ltd. and Vodacom Ltd. were among those to take up the offer.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mike Cohen in Durban via Johannesburg at mcohen21@bloomberg.net; Franz Wild in Durban via Johannesburg at fwild@bloomberg.net.

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