South Africa’s ruling African National Congress opened its nominations for a leadership vote in December that may see President Jacob Zuma challenged by his deputy.
The 100-year-old ANC said it limited the time for nominations because discussions about the leadership were proving divisive. The rebel former leader of the party’s youth wing, Julius Malema, has called Zuma, 70, a “dictator” and swung his support behind Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.
At the last conference in 2007, the ANC endured a contentious leadership battle that saw Zuma, then backed by Malema, 31, and the ANC youth wing, oust former President Thabo Mbeki. With its almost two-thirds majority in parliament, the ANC can ensure the party leader becomes the president of Africa’s biggest economy.
“At this point in time it looks like Zuma is in a better position to win, unless something dramatic happens,” Somadoda Fikeni, a political analyst at the Pretoria-based University of South Africa, said today in a phone interview. Motlanthe “needs to give an open signal soon otherwise his supporters will grow impatient and he won’t be able to build up enough momentum before December.”
Zuma’s reelection may depend on overwhelming support in his native KwaZulu-Natal, which has the most ANC members, according to William Gumede, the author of ‘Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times.’
“If you win it at a big margin, you’re close to winning reelection,” Gumede said in an interview last month. “It’s not based on policy, but on personal affiliation.”
Membership in KwaZulu-Natal swelled to 331,820 from 244,900 in January, ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe told reporters in Johannesburg on Sept. 28, while the ANC’s second-biggest province, Eastern Cape province, has fallen to 187,585 from 225,597 in January. The party has 1.2 million members nationwide.
The ANC in Malema’s northern Limpopo home province issued a statement on Sept. 18 pledging support for Motlanthe, 63, as party leader. It retracted the statement within hours, saying provincial spokesman Makonde Mathivha had e-mailed it without authorization.
The ANC’s labor ally, the 2.2-million member Congress of South African Trade Unions, decided at its Sept. 17-20 national congress not to debate whether to back Zuma again. Some delegates sang pro-Zuma songs and others made hand signals used in soccer matches to indicate a player substitution.
Cosatu’s influence among South Africa’s workers has been challenged by a series of illegal strikes it didn’t support that have shut mines owned by Anglo American Platinum Ltd., Lonmin Plc and AngloGold Ashanti Ltd.
After police killed 34 striking miners at Lonmin’s Marikana mine on Aug. 16, Malema described the government as a “pig that is eating its own children.”
Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, a former ANC Youth League leader, criticized party restrictions on raising the leadership issue.
“The people who are creating a problem are those who come to you and tell you that to elect a leader is a taboo,” Mbalula, who the Youth League is touting as the party’s next secretary-general, said in comments broadcast on Johannesburg-based SAFM on Sept. 26. “You must never do that. Speak about your choices politically when you want change if you want it. And nobody must make you to be fearful.”
Only an ANC grouping from any of South Africa’s nine provinces can nominate a leadership candidate before the conference, according to the party constitution. Additional names will be accepted during the conference if they have the backing of a quarter of the delegates, it says.
Ninety percent of the voting delegates are elected by branches across the country of 50 million, according to the constitution. The rest are allocated by the provincial executive committees, the Youth League, the Women’s League and the Veteran’s League.