Zuma’s Home Region Seeks Allies in South Africa Succession Race

  • Battle to succeed Jacob Zuma as ANC leader intensifies
  • Mpumalanga may be king-maker in December party election

Jacob Zuma, South Africa's president, poses for a photograph following a Bloomberg Television interview at his state residence in Pretoria, South Africa.

Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

South African President Jacob Zuma’s home province is making overtures to one of the key power blocs in the African National Congress in a bid to support his preferred successor as he prepares to step down as leader of the ruling party in December.

Monday’s meeting between party officials from the provinces of Mpumalanga and Zuma’s home area of KwaZulu-Natal came amid an intensifying drive by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to win the leadership of the ANC against Zuma’s favored candidate, his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

“These fellows are desperate,” said Lukhona Mnguni, a political analyst at the Durban-based University of KwaZulu-Natal. “It does show that the Zuma faction is no longer in the driving seat as it was before.”

Mpumalanga and two other provinces are part of an informal bloc known as the “premier league” that has previously helped Zuma, 75, ward off leadership challenges and survive multiple scandals. The three provinces have about a third of the ANC’s membership, according to the party’s latest figures.

After the meeting Monday, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga expressed concern about an “ongoing onslaught and vicious attack” that’s aimed at Zuma and is designed to oust the ANC from power, according to a statement. At the same time, they criticized the Gupta family, who are friends of Zuma and in business with his son, saying they and other business interests have been “driven by a desire for profit maximization at all cost” and that party members must “never fall prey to their tricks and influence.”

Premier League

Mpumalanga had the third-biggest of nine provincial delegations to the ANC’s policy conference in July after KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, making it the dominant region in the “premier league,” which also includes the Free State and North West provinces.

While KwaZulu-Natal’s rank and file members are divided on the succession question, their elected officials have campaigned for Dlamini-Zuma, a 68-year-old former African Union Commission chairwoman and mother of four of Zuma’s children, who has previously served as foreign minister and home affairs minister.

Her main opponent, Ramaphosa, co-funded the National Union of Mineworkers and helped negotiate a peaceful end to apartheid. He went into business and amassed a fortune after he lost out to Thabo Mbeki in the contest to succeed Nelson Mandela as president in 1999. He returned to active politics in 2012 when he became ANC deputy president.

Read more on the ANC’s leadership contest

The ANC’s next leader will probably succeed Zuma in 2019 as president, a post that wields immense power, including the right to dispense cabinet posts and other top government jobs.

The choice of its new leader could be key the party’s election chances in two years. Support for the ANC slipped to 54.5 percent in municipal elections in August last year, from 62 percent in a 2014 national vote. That was its worst performance since taking power after apartheid ended in 1994.

“The meeting is significant in determining the future leadership of the ANC,” said Susan Booysen, a political science professor at the University of Witwatersrand’s School of Governance. “Negotiations like that could go either way, on the assumption that it is going to be a tight race and that provinces like Mpumalanga could be one of the king-makers.”

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