Who’s Who Guide to Top Contenders to Lead South Africa's ANC

The battle to replace South African President Jacob Zuma as the leader of the African National Congress in December is taking place at one of the most difficult junctures in the 105-year-old party’s history. It’s plagued by infighting and suffered its worst-ever electoral showing in a municipal vote in August when it lost control of key cities including the capital, Pretoria and economic hub of Johannesburg. The ANC’s woes have been widely blamed on Zuma, 75, who’s been implicated in a succession of scandals. While the formal nomination process will open later in the year, party structures have begun discussing their preferred candidates.

Here’s an overview of the main contenders:

Cyril Ramaphosa

Cyril Ramaphosa

RAJESH JANTILAL/AFP/Getty Images

The 64-year-old deputy president has spoken out against corruption and won the support of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the country’s largest labor group and an ANC ally, and the Northern Cape provincial leadership. A lawyer who co-founded the National Union of Mineworkers, Ramaphosa helped negotiate a peaceful end to apartheid and draft South Africa’s first democratic constitution. He lost out to Thabo Mbeki in the contest to succeed Nelson Mandela as president in 1999 and went into business, amassing a fortune before returning to full-time politics in 2012 as the ANC’s deputy leader. Ramaphosa was accused of enticing police action against striking workers before 34 people were shot at the Marikana platinum mine his company partly owned. A judicial inquiry cleared him of wrongdoing.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

RAJESH JANTILAL/AFP/Getty Images

Dlamini-Zuma, 68, is Zuma’s former wife and enjoys the support of the president, the ANC women’s league, the youth wing and the party’s military veterans’ association. She backs Zuma’s calls for “radical economic transformation” to place more of the country’s wealth in the hands of the black majority. She hit the campaign trail in March following a five-year stint as head of the African Union Commission. A medical doctor, she served as Mandela’s health minister. While she was lauded for extending access to health care to the black majority, she drew criticism for squandering millions of rand of taxpayer funds on an ineffectual AIDS education play. She served as foreign minister for a decade, and then as home affairs minister won praise for overseeing a successful overhaul of the system of issuing identity documents and passports. She and Zuma were divorced in 1998 and have four children together.

Zweli Mkhize

Zweli Mkhize.

Source: GCIS/Handout/EPA

The ANC’s treasurer-general, Mkhize, 61, could emerge as a compromise candidate should a deal be reached to avoid a divisive leadership struggle within the party. A medical doctor, Mkhize served as premier of KwaZulu-Natal province from 2009 to 2013 and held several other senior posts in the province. He has rejected Zuma’s calls to change the constitution to allow land seizures without compensation, and like Ramaphosa criticized the president’s March 31 decision to make 20 changes to his executive without consulting his fellow ANC leaders.


Malusi Gigaba

Malusi Gigaba.

Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

The 45-year-old finance minister is a possible dark horse in the succession race, should there be a move to bring about a generational shift in the ANC’s leadership. He studied teaching and served as head of the ANC’s youth wing, a lawmaker and minister of public enterprises and then home affairs before being appointed to his current post in March in place of Pravin Gordhan. A study by eight academics placed Gigaba at the center of a scheme by Zuma and members of the wealthy Gupta family to loot state assets and reap billions of rand from government contracts. Gigaba, Zuma and the Guptas all deny wrongdoing.

Baleka Mbete

Baleka Mbete

JOHN WESSELS/AFP/Getty Images

The speaker of parliament and chairwoman of the ANC, Mbete, 67, has said she wants the top job. She’s yet to secure any public endorsements and her hopes of rallying support among ANC officials angling for the party to be led by a woman for the first time have been diluted by Dlamini-Zuma’s candidature. Mbete, who trained as a teacher, served as the country’s deputy president from September 2008 to May 2009. Opposition parties have accused her of abusing her position as speaker and failing to act impartially.

Lindiwe Sisulu

Lindiwe Sisulu

Tebogo Letsie/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images

The human settlements minister, Sisulu, 63, is another possible compromise candidate. The daughter of the late ANC luminary Walter Sisulu, who was imprisoned with Mandela, she also trained as a teacher. She’s previously served as minister of defense and military veterans, intelligence and public service and administration. While she’s yet to openly declare her candidacy, video clips are circulating on social media extolling her leadership qualities.

Mathews Phosa

Mathew Phosa

Photographer: Leon Sadiki/City Press/Gallo Images/Getty Images

A lawyer and businessman, Phosa, 64, is the ex-premier of the northeastern Mpumalanga province and a former ANC treasurer-general. He announced his intention to run for the top ANC post in April, but he has little chance of winning if his 2012 attempt to secure the party’s deputy presidency is anything to go by -- Ramaphosa beat him by 3,018 votes to 470. Phosa has been a strong critic of Zuma’s leadership, accusing him of plunging the ANC and the country into crisis.

Jeff Radebe

Jeff Radebe

Photographer: Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images

Radebe, 64, studied law and is South Africa’s longest-serving cabinet minister. He’s held five portfolios since apartheid ended in 1994: public works, public enterprises, transport, justice and his current post -- a minister in the presidency, responsible for performance monitoring and evaluation, and overseeing the National Planning Commission. Radebe is playing his cards close to his chest as to whether he’ll enter the ANC succession race. His image was dented when reports surfaced last month that he’d sent text messages to a subordinate asking her to send him naked pictures of herself. He apologized for his actions.

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