South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe is to challenge South African President Jacob Zuma for leadership of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) next week, spicing up a one-sided race for the top political position in Africa’s biggest economy.
Motlanthe aide Thabo Masebe ended months of speculation about the internal ANC election in the city of Bloemfontein, saying Motlanthe would enter the contest after winning the backing of two of South Africa’s nine provinces.
“I understand he [Motlanthe] will contest the presidency,” he said on Thursday.
The 70-year-old Zuma remains firm favorite to win re-election in Bloemfontein as head of the ANC, a position that puts him in pole position to secure a second five-year term as state president in an election in 2014.
The ANC, which has run South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994, retains the strong emotional support of most of South Africa’s 80 percent black majority, making a defeat at the ballot box any time this decade highly unlikely.
Motlanthe has not expanded on why he is to oppose Zuma. However, he has spoken of restoring democracy and openness to former South African president Nelson Mandela’s 100-year-old liberation movement, whose image has suffered under the scandal-plagued Zuma.
Zuma won wide support from ANC branches in five provinces, meaning that, barring any last-minute mishaps, he should emerge again as party leader in Bloemfontein.
The previous ANC election, in the city of Polokwane in 2007, was a riotous affair at which Zuma ousted then-South African president Thabo Mbeki, creating rifts that divide the party to this day and hamper its ability to run a sophisticated emerging economy.
Mindful of the Polokwane chaos, which included delegates throwing chairs and baring their buttocks at the vanquished Mbeki, the ANC’s overseers are keeping a tight lid on the vote, including even withholding the names of leadership candidates.
“We’re not at liberty to tell you the nominees,” party election commission chairman Mochubela Seekoe told a news conference, infuriating reporters crammed into the lobby of the ANC headquarters in downtown Johannesburg.
Motlanthe is also running to retain his current job of deputy leader, but faces a strong last-minute challenge from Cyril Ramaphosa, an inspirational anti-apartheid union leader and South Africa’s second-richest black businessman.
The four-day conference, which starts tomorrow, is to chart a broad policy course for the next five years, reaffirming the primacy of the state in guiding the economy.
Nationalization of the mines — championed by expelled ANC youth leader Julius Malema — has been dropped as a viable course.