South Africa at a crossroads: ANC chooses new leader

Party conference could define future of the continent’s third largest economy

Jacob Zuma
Jacob Zuma
(Image credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The African National Congress (ANC) will make one of the most important decisions in its 105-year history when it chooses the party’s next leader during its upcoming elective conference in Johannesburg.

While Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa appears to have the edge, his main rival Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma could still take charge.

The candidate chosen at the conference, which runs from 16 to 20 December, will become party leader and potentially president, replacing Jacob Zuma, whose “scandal-ridden decade in charge of the ANC has seen an explosion of alleged corruption and cronyism, a damaging split and a once-unthinkable slide in the party’s popularity”, says the Financial Times.

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Zuma’s replacement “will be charged with reversing both the economic rot and the extraordinary slide in the ANC’s moral standing”, the newspaper says.

Elections look likely in 2019, but it won’t be an easy victory. Support for the ANC fell under Zuma’s leadership amid allegations that he allowed his cronies in the wealthy Gupta family to influence cabinet posts and state contracts.

Ramaphosa has pledged to revive the ailing economy, reduce a 28% unemployment rate and combat corruption, while Dlamini-Zuma has echoed Zuma’s call for “radical economic transformation” in order to place more of the country’s wealth in the hands of the black majority.

So is this the end of Zuma’s days in power?

Not necessarily. A win for Ramaphosa could result in Zuma’s criminal prosecution for corruption, but in recent days Zuma has “presented himself as unifier against a possible party split”, says South African newspaper Business Day.

“Certainly, he is unpopular. But betting against Zuma has proved unwise in the past, and there are many ways in which he could turn things to his advantage,” The Economist adds.

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