South Africa’s powerful ruling party is meeting to choose new leadership at a time when it has never been more divided.
Over the coming days, some 5,000 delegates of the African National Congress will choose its new top slate – and in doing so, will signal the end of the controversial rule of embattled party leader and South African president, Jacob Zuma.
Zuma, whose mounting corruption scandals have riven the party, will step down as leader at this conference. His successor will then be the presumptive ruling party presidential candidate when South Africa next votes, in 2019. Zuma may continue as president of the country after the vote, but analysts predict his party will try to convince him to step down before the election.
The selection of Zuma’s successor is shaping up to be a battle between deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a top diplomat and former cabinet minister who is also Zuma’s former wife. Voting is going to be a complicated, contentious process – on Saturday, party secretary Gwede Mantashe told journalists that some 100 delegates affected by three court rulings on Friday will not be granted voting status at the conference. That could be seen as a blow to Dlamini-Zuma’s base.
Many political watchers, like former Gauteng province premier Tokyo Sexwale, have warned that this bitter battle could make or break the party that has commanded a clean majority in every national vote since 1994.
“At this conference it is at the crossroads,” he told VOA on the meeting’s sidelines. “It must be mindful of the fact that a wrong turn could bury this organization.”
“Here’s a chance now to fix the ANC itself,” he said. “…To send a strong message that we have turned a corner. If we are not going to do that, nobody is going to trust us.”