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Zuma, Ramaphosa Are Favorites to Lead South Africa’s ANC

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma
South African President Jacob Zuma. Photographer: Graham Crouch/Bloomberg

President Jacob Zuma won overwhelming support for a second term as leader of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, while tycoon Cyril Ramaphosa is the frontrunner to become his deputy, party nomination results show.

Zuma won 82 percent of the votes for nomination as party leader from seven of the nine provinces, while his current deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, took 18 percent, according to a tally of results. Ramaphosa, a former labor leader, received 65 percent support in the contest to become ANC vice president. The numbers aren’t final because the 4,500 delegates at a Dec. 16-20 leadership conference may cast individual ballots free of nomination preferences.

“Zuma will carry the nomination fairly easily,” Mari Harris, a Johannesburg-based political analyst at the Ipsos Markinor research company, said in a Nov. 30 phone interview. “Delegates are carefully selected. There is careful planning and loading of the electoral colleges in the different provinces.”

A former ANC intelligence operative, Zuma, 70, won control of the party from Thabo Mbeki five years ago after graft charges against him were withdrawn, and was appointed the nation’s president in May 2009. He’s retained support within the ANC even as his administration battles to cut a 26 percent unemployment rate and contain the fallout of mining strikes that curbed growth and contributed to two debt-rating downgrades.

‘Strong Position’

“Zuma is in a relatively strong position countrywide to remain in power,” Daniel Silke, author of “Tracking the Future: Top Trends That Will Shape South Africa and the World,” said in a Nov. 30 phone interview from Cape Town. “Any alternate candidate would need to be reasonably certain that he stands a chance of defeating Zuma, otherwise his own political career could come to a very sudden halt.”

Motlanthe, a 63-year-old former labor union leader, told reporters in Pretoria on Nov. 30 that he’s “still agonizing” over a decision whether to run against Zuma at the conference in the central city of Bloemfontein.

Whatever his decision, Motlanthe faces the danger of being dropped from the party leadership altogether. The provincial nominations show him trailing both Zuma for party president and Ramaphosa, who helped negotiate the end of apartheid and is now South Africa’s second-richest black businessman, for vice president.

KwaZulu-Natal Base

Ramaphosa, 60, hasn’t said if he will accept the nomination, while Motlanthe may yet boost his 19 percent share of the vote to retain his position if he declines to challenge Zuma for the top job. Whoever wins will be in a position to be the nation’s president when Zuma’s second five-year term ends in 2019.

Zuma gained the edge in the nomination race by winning unanimous support in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal, which will have the biggest number of voting delegates at the ANC conference. His victory was probably sealed when he received 65 percent support in the Eastern Cape, the second-largest ANC region.

The Western Cape and Limpopo provinces failed to meet a Nov. 30 party deadline to make nominations because of wrangling over who was eligible to vote. Even without those provinces, Zuma has already secured support for his nomination from more than 65 percent of the total party electorate, and Ramaphosa 47 percent, according to the partial results.

The release of the Eastern Cape results was delayed by disputes over whether 80 branch representatives were properly elected. Some delegates known to oppose Zuma were disqualified from making nominations, according to Motlanthe supporter Zama Siziba.

‘Disqualified’ Voters

“I was sidelined because I want a change in leadership and that’s not what the provincial leaders want,” Siziba said in a Dec. 1 interview at the Eastern Cape’s conference in the town of Alice. “The national conference cannot be legitimate when there are people like me who have been disqualified.”

The ANC’s next leader is almost guaranteed the national presidency because the party controls almost two-thirds of seats in Parliament, which elects the president.

The mining strikes and concerns about political stability before the ANC election have contributed to the rand plunging 9.1 percent against the dollar this year, the second-worst performer of 16 major currencies tracked by Bloomberg, trading at 8.8979 as of 8:46 a.m. in Johannesburg.

Default Swaps

The cost to protect South African debt against non-payment for five years using credit-default swaps has jumped 19 basis points since Aug. 10, when the strikes began, indicating deteriorating risk perception among investors, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Credit default swaps for Turkey, Russia and Brazil have declined over the same period.

Africa’s biggest economy grew an annualized 1.2 percent in the third quarter, the slowest since a recession in 2009 and down from 3.4 percent in the previous three months, Statistics South Africa said on Nov. 27.

“I think investors are assuming that Zuma will be the presidential nominee and will be in the presidential position until 2019,” Phoenix Kalen, a strategist at the Royal Bank of Scotland in London, said in a Nov. 30 phone interview. “It’s not going to be necessarily negative, but it’s not going to provide the market with any positive news as would happen potentially with, say, Cyril Ramaphosa coming to lead.”

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