JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The vote to choose the next president of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party is set to get underway Sunday, after disputes over the credentials of party delegates highlighted the bitter fight within Nelson Mandela’s historic liberation movement.
The ANC’s new leader is likely to become South Africa’s next president. More than 4,700 ANC delegates have gathered on the outskirts of Johannesburg to vote for a new party leader as President Jacob Zuma’s two terms as head of the party come to an end.
The mood at the party conclave, held once every five years, was jubilant on Saturday as delegates arrived at a conference center in luxury buses, clad in the ANC’s yellow and green colors. However disagreements quickly erupted over the legitimacy of some delegate groups. By midday Sunday, the credential process was resolved.
The ANC’s reputation has taking a beating during Zuma’s scandal-ridden tenure, causing rifts that threaten to split Africa’s oldest liberation party. Keeping the ANC together has been a key talking point at the gathering.
“In all its manifestations, factionalism has become the biggest threat to the organization,” Zuma said in a tepidly received speech at the opening of the conference. “Unity is what will make the ANC and South Africa succeed.”
The two front-runners are Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, former African Union commission chair and Zuma’s ex-wife, and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, a wealthy businessman who has been increasingly critical of the president.
Though either could still prevail, Ramaphosa appeared to have a slight edge after ANC branches around the country announced their nominations for the party’s top job. The Saturday night endorsement of Ramaphosa by Baleka Mbete, the party’s outgoing national chairwoman and a Zuma ally, has fueled speculation that the race may be swinging in the deputy president’s favor.
On Saturday, Zuma made a surprise announcement that the government would fully subsidize tertiary education for “poor and working class” students, despite findings of a government commission that South Africa cannot afford it. Some observers read the move as a last-minute push to help the campaign of Dlamini-Zuma.
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