Six candidates are bidding to succeed Jacob Zuma as the leader of the African National Congress next year as South Africa’s ruling party starts the process this weekend to choose its next president, according to its Secretary General Gwede Mantashe.
“There’s six people who have raised their hand that they want to be president” of the party, Mantashe, 61, said in an interview on Thursday at Bloomberg’s Johannesburg office. “What we have agreed on is that there must a debate openly.”
While the 104-year-old ANC suffered its worst performance in an election this year, its leader is likely to become national president in 2019 as it still commands the majority of support in the country. The new leader will need to reach out to millions of ANC supporters who stayed away from the polls in municipal elections in August after Zuma was implicated in a series of scandals and the economy skirted a second recession in seven years. The ANC has won every election since the end of apartheid in 1994.
Top party officials will from this weekend start a “political education” roadshow to speak to members at branches to help facilitate the process of electing a new leader at its five-yearly conference in December next year, Mantashe said. Zuma, whose second term as president of the country ends in 2019, has led the ANC since 2007.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, 63, and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s 67-year-old ex-wife whose time as chairwoman of the African Union Commission ends in January, are seen as the front-runners to succeed Zuma. While Mantashe didn’t name any of the candidates, other potential contenders could be Zweli Mkhize, 60, the ANC’s treasurer-general and former premier of KwaZulu-Natal province, and Baleka Mbete, 67, the speaker of parliament and ANC chairwoman.
Zuma, 74, isn’t one of the six candidates and isn’t expected to seek re-election, Mantashe said.
“I don’t think he will stand for the third term. He’s not in the six. It would be a mistake to stand for a third term,” he said. “It’s not an unspoken rule, it’s actually spoken because we go on to say the president of the ANC is the ANC candidate for the president of the country.”
South African presidents can only serve two five-year terms.
Zuma has faced increasing calls to step down after the nation’s top court ruled in March he had violated the constitution by refusing to pay back taxpayer money to upgrade his private residence. A report by the graft ombudsman released last week suggested he had allowed members of the Gupta family, who are his friends and in business with his son, to influence cabinet appointments and the awarding of state contracts.
“The leadership contest is still wide open especially given that there is a movement to create a better and wiser ANC,” Susan Booysen a professor at the Johannesburg-based School of Governance at the University of the Witwatersrand, said by phone on Friday. “It also means that the leadership battle is opening up wider and there could be a surprise candidate, except ANC politics has never really delivered surprise candidates. But it could mean Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma can be challenged.”