South African President Jacob Zuma faces ANC leadership challenge

President expected to defeat attempt by deputy Motlanthe to lead party ahead of 2014 elections

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 December, 2012, 6:04am


South African President Jacob Zuma will face a leadership challenge from his deputy when the ruling ANC gathers for a party conference tomorrow, with the winner inheriting a century-old movement mired in a deep crisis.

Roughly 4,500 delegates will gather in Bloemfontein to decide whether Zuma, or Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, will lead the African National Congress and the country through to 2019.

Preliminary voting has put Zuma well ahead of his rival, and he remains the odds-on favourite to remain in power after the 2014 elections.

But with the party in the kind of crisis seldom seen since it was banned in 1960, Zuma could be in for a rocky ride.

After ousting president Thabo Mbeki in an act of political regicide five years ago, Zuma now faces a similar challenge.

Despite the cadres' best efforts, 12 months of celebrations to mark the party's 100th year have been drowned out by allegations of corruption, flashes of authoritarianism and economic mismanagement which critics say borders on gross negligence.

The August day which saw 34 striking miners killed by police may be the nadir, but thanks to Zuma's reluctance to get involved it may yet prove to be the end of South Africa's 18-year honeymoon with the ANC.

"President Zuma has been a very indecisive president," said Adriaan Basson, author of Zuma Exposed. "Further to that, he has benefitted, his children and a lot of people around him, to a large extent in terms of business interests and positions."

The party of anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela has seldom been weaker or seemed so out of touch.

According to a recent Ipsos poll, more than half of the ANC's own supporters believe the future of the party is uncertain.

During recent by-elections voters gave an indication of their view, with the ANC suffering a defeat to the Inkatha Freedom Party in Zuma's home municipality.

Analysts expect Zuma to survive. "President Zuma is a masterful strategist," said Basson. "He's been able to survive a rape trial as well as a corruption trial. He came out of these trials and presented himself as a victim."