Oct. 17 (Bloomberg) -- A surge in Zulu members of the African National Congress is strengthening President Jacob Zuma’s bid to retain leadership of South Africa’s ruling party in the face of a flagging economy and credit rating downgrades.
Party membership among Zuma’s fellow Zulus in his home province has tripled since he ousted Thabo Mbeki as ANC leader in 2007. KwaZulu-Natal will have 22 percent of the 4,500 delegates at the ANC’s leadership conference in December, up from 16 percent five years ago. The ANC’s traditional stronghold, the Eastern Cape, has a 15 percent share.
Zuma is strengthening his power base in KwaZulu-Natal just as his government faces the worst labor unrest since the end of apartheid that started Aug. 10 at Lonmin Plc’s Marikana platinum mine, where 46 people were killed. Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Service downgraded South Africa’s sovereign rating in the past month, citing an increase in political risk and slower economic growth.
“Performance in government plays a very small part in the choice of the ANC president,” Dirk Kotze, a politics professor at the University of South Africa, said by phone from Pretoria. “Within the ANC, Zuma is in a very solid position. He is a very crafty politician and he understands how to mobilize people.”
Victory in the contest will ensure Zuma, 70, remains president of Africa’s biggest economy because the ANC holds almost two-thirds of the seats in Parliament.
The strikes cut output at platinum producers Anglo Platinum Ltd. and Lonmin and gold companies AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. Central bank Governor Gill Marcus warned on Oct. 10 that the nation’s economic outlook is deteriorating “rapidly.”
The rand has lost 7.4 percent against the dollar since the strikes began, the worst performer among 25 developing-nation currencies tracked by Bloomberg.
Zulus, South Africa’s biggest ethnic group, dominate in KwaZulu-Natal. Since Zuma became party leader, ANC members in the province soared to 331,820 as of last month from 102,742. In Eastern Cape, the home of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, membership rose to 187,585 from 153,164.
The ANC has been siphoning members away from the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party, the ANC’s traditional rival in KwaZulu-Natal, according to analysts such as Daniel Silke, author of “Tracking the Future: Top trends that will shape South Africa and the World.”
Inkatha’s share of the vote in the last national elections in 2009 slumped in the province to 23 percent from 36 percent five years earlier, while the ANC’s surged to 63 percent from 47 percent.
“Zuma has been a significant player in attracting support away from the IFP,” Silke said in a phone interview from Cape Town. “There is no doubt that ethnic identification was always an important factor for IFP voters, and as he is the first Zulu president of South Africa the ethnic loyalty made it much easier for those voters to switch away from the IFP.”
Zuma is also credited in KwaZulu-Natal with helping end long-standing violence between the ANC and the IFP, Mzukisi Qobo, a politics lecturer at the University of Pretoria, said in a phone interview.
“The odds are that Zuma will take the election uncontested,” Qobo said. “Senior party leaders are trying to cobble together a platform that would be based on consensus on a single slate that tries to accommodate everyone but agrees on Zuma being the president.”
Zuma allies also control the Free State, Mpumalanga and North West provinces, and the ANC Women’s League, which together make up a quarter of voting delegates, according to Kotze.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions has also endorsed Zuma’s candidature for a second term, the country’s largest labor federation said today in an e-mailed statement.
Zuma is shoring up his status within the ANC even as the government’s handling of the labor unrest has drawn criticism from former supporters.
The killing of at least 34 striking miners by police at Marikana prompted former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, who was expelled from the party, to call Zuma a “dictator” and South Africa a “banana republic.”
The youth league and the ANC in Malema’s home province of Limpopo have called for Zuma’s deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, 63, to become party leader. Limpopo has 13 percent of the conference delegates, and the youth league 1 percent.
“What we’ve seen in the last five years did not make us happy as the leadership of the ANC,” Soviet Lekganyane, the party’s secretary in Limpopo, said in a phone interview from the northern town of Polokwane. “We want a leadership that can inspire.”
Among the general public, Zuma’s approval rating fell to 48 percent in the first two weeks of August -- before the mine violence erupted -- from 55 percent in February, a survey of 2,000 adults canvassed by research company TNS shows. Thirty-two percent of respondents wanted him to win a second term, while 39 percent said Motlanthe should get the job, the Johannesburg-based company said in a Sept. 25 e-mail.
Motlanthe, a former labor union leader who served as interim president for eight months after Mbeki’s ousting as national president in 2008, has strong support in his home province of Gauteng, Kotze said. The province will account for 12 percent of delegates at the ANC conference.
Motlanthe also has some backing among delegates from the Eastern Cape, according to Kotze.
“There is lots of resentment in provinces like Limpopo and the Eastern Cape, where ANC members feel they are being politically marginalized,” he said.
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