AFRICANGLOBE – The African National Congress overcame vigorous opposition to triumph in South Africa’s fifth democratic elections. Now the real battle begins — the one inside the ANC to succeed a scandal-prone president. South Africa’s electoral commission said that the ANC won 62.2 percent of votes cast on May 7.
The next largest party, the Democratic Alliance, secured 22.2 percent. A new party founded by former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, the Economic Freedom Fighters, got 6.4 percent.
After the final results were released, president Jacob Zuma said that he will use his fresh election mandate to foster “inclusive economic growth and job creation,” in part through US$80 billion in infrastructure spending.
“There is a lot that we have to do and we are determined to do more.”
But even as a tainted president returns to office, the race to succeed him in five years has begun.
While he is likely to surround himself with political allies and try to engineer a smooth handover to one of them, party insiders predict deepening divisions in the ANC, as those overlooked for plum posts split with those who were rewarded. A member of the ANC’s powerful executive committee said factions have already surfaced behind favoured candidates.
“They are jockeying against each other already,” this person said. “It has started.” The ANC won despite Mr Zuma’s frequent brushes with scandal.
The most recent has been an anti-corruption watchdog’s allegations that Mr Zuma “unduly benefited” from US$23 million in state spending on his private home. Mr Zuma says he didn’t know about the cost overruns and is still considering what to do about it.
“Media and the opposition wanted to rubbish Zuma’s name. But our people weren’t misled,” said ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu. Some analysts have speculated that the ANC might dump Mr Zuma in an attempt to restore some of the lustre of a ruling party that has become tainted by patronage and corruption. Speaking to reporters two days before the election, Mr Zuma insisted he would serve all of his second term.
“I’m going to be elected, and I’m going to be here for the next five years,” he said. Still, support for the ANC was notably weaker than the 65.9 percent the party won in 2009.
Who the ANC taps to succeed Mr Zuma could indicate how the party hopes to stem further declines.
The most prominent candidate is Cyril Ramaphosa, a union leader turned business mogul who is now the party’s deputy president.
Mr Zuma is expected to name Mr Ramaphosa the country’s deputy president in return for backing him in a 2012 leadership struggle.
Mr Ramaphosa’s experience managing mines and South Africa’s McDonald’s Corp. MCD 0.48 percent restaurant franchises makes him an attractive steward of a troubled economy, ANC members say. In private meetings with business executives, said some people in these meetings, he has expressed hopes to be the country’s next president.
In public, he has been coy about his ambitions. “Yes, I want to be president — of my golf club,” Mr Ramaphosa joked to reporters recently. Anything else, he added, would be up to the ANC.
Both Mr Zuma and his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, served as deputy president before taking South Africa’s top job. But that precedent doesn’t assure Mr Ramaphosa’s ascent.
To complicate matters, said political analysts, Mr Zuma may name multiple deputies, including one of the ANC’s female leaders. Mr Zuma told reporters in Johannesburg a fortnight ago that the ANC should work toward installing a female leader, a sentiment other prominent party members echo. “I think this country is ready for a female president,” Mr Zuma said. “Perhaps in a shorter time than you think.”
Mr Zuma didn’t say whom he had in mind. But one of the most prominent in the party is Mr Zuma’s ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairwoman of the African Union’s executive arm and South Africa’s former home-affairs minister.
She has strong support in KwaZulu-Natal province, the powerful base that also catapulted Mr Zuma to the head of the party and the presidency.
Another presidential aspirant, ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize, also hails from KwaZulu-Natal.
One former member of the ANC’s executive committee said Mr Zuma wants Mr Mkhize to succeed him because he hopes their shared background would oblige Mr Mkhize to protect him from legal scrutiny.
Party leaders say it is too early to say who will consolidate the momentum necessary to win over regional delegates representing the ANC’s 1.2 million members at a leadership conference scheduled for 2017.
“We are in a very dynamic environment,” said Lindiwe Zulu, an adviser to Mr Zuma and member of the ANC’s executive committee.
For now, the ANC’s strong showing will relieve pressure on Mr Zuma to step down early and strengthen his say in who succeeds him, said Prince Mashele, a political analyst and a presidential speechwriter under Mr Mbeki.