South African President Thabo Mbeki was licking his wounds yesterday after being toppled by Jacob Zuma as the ruling African National Congress' (ANC) leader in a move that threatens to usher in a turbulent new era.
"Zunami Rules" read the front-page headline of the Sowetan above a photo of a jubilant Zuma hugging Mbeki in a rare show of camaraderie between the pair after a bitter leadership contest that was finally announced late on Tuesday.
As Dren Nupen, head of the ANC elections commission, announced that Zuma had won 2,329 votes to 1,505 for Mbeki, the delegates gathered at a conference in northern Polokwane erupted into celebration.
The result marks a major humiliation for Mbeki, who had wanted unfettered control in his last two years as head of state before he is constitutionally obliged to stand down, and must now deal with a rival center of power.
"The victory means that while Zuma will hold sway at party headquarters at Luthuli House, Johannesburg, Mbeki will continue to run the country from the Union Buildings, raising the prospect of a power struggle pitting party against state," the Business Day newspaper said.
The Star newspaper declared that Mbeki was now a "lame duck president" and warned his government "could be crippled and forced to account to the newly elected leadership."
Neither man made any comment to reporters on Tuesday night. A Zuma press conference scheduled for yesterday was also canceled as delegates met behind closed doors to discuss the make-up of the 86-strong national executive committee.
"We thought it best that he should address the conference before he addresses the media," ANC spokesman Steyn Speed said.
Victory caps a remarkable comeback for the scandal-plagued Zuma, who still faces the prospect of being charged with corruption.
The 65-year-old was sacked by Mbeki as deputy head of state in 2005 when his financial adviser was jailed for fraud. Later Zuma stood trial for raping a family friend less than half his age.
Although Zuma was acquitted, he was widely ridiculed for testifying he had showered after sex with his HIV-positive accuser to prevent infection.
Given the ANC's large majority in parliament, Zuma would normally almost be guaranteed the job of state president in elections in 2009 after his victory in the party contest.
But he faces being charged with corruption after losing a recent court bid to have a series of search warrants declared illegal.
An ethnic Zulu whose earthy charm contrasts sharply with the aloof Mbeki, Zuma has cashed in on growing disillusionment with the government's failure to eradicate poverty in the 13 years since the end of whites-only rule.
Although Mbeki, also 65, can point to an uninterrupted period of growth, unemployment is unofficially estimated to be around 40 percent.
Many analysts believe, however, that Mbeki's defeat was more as a result of his distant and authoritarian style, which had alienated many in his party, rather than a firm vote of confidence in Zuma.
Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad, one of Mbeki's closest allies, said it was important the ANC now unite after the conference exposed deep divisions.
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