Ramaphosa is bidding to retain the reins of the ANC
Johannesburg (AFP) - South Africa’s ruling party went into a closely watched conference Friday that looks set to re-elect Cyril Ramaphosa as leader, despite a tarnishing cash-heist scandal.
Some 4,500 African National Congress (ANC) delegates sporting bright yellow and green T-shirts gathered at an events centre near Johannesburg where they will vote for a new leader on Saturday.
Ramaphosa is bidding to retain the reins of the ANC as the storied party struggles with rifts and declining support after 28 years in power.
Portraying himself as a graft-busting champion, Ramaphosa took control of the ANC in 2017 after his boss Jacob Zuma became mired in corruption.
The party’s majority in parliament means that it also has control over the process to approve the national president.
But Ramaphosa’s clean-hands image has been dented by allegations he concealed a huge cash burglary at his farm rather than report the matter to the authorities.
Despite this, the 70-year-old leader appears on track to win the party leadership election, expected to take place among delegates on Saturday.
The start of the conference was several hours behind schedule, but a party official said that, despite the delay, voting will be on time, and results will be released around five hours later.
ANC member Tumi Mogotla, 37, a street vendor selling ANC paraphernalia on the fringes of the conference centre, believes Ramaphosa deserves a second term
“My wish is that Ramaphosa wins again. I believe he is the best person to fix corruption in the country,” said Mogotla, standing next to shirts, hats and flags in ANC colours.
But Ntombikayise Shabalala, 52, an unemployed party delegate angered by rolling electricity blackouts, wanted a change of leadership.
- ‘A watershed moment’ -
“We need a strong leadership,” she told AFP.
Outside the imposing conference venue, a group of delegates chanted that Ramaphosa should leave the presidency over the farmgate scandal. They also sang a pro-Zuma song.
On the eve of the conference Zuma announced he was seeking to bring a prosecution against Ramaphosa over a leaked medical report linked to a 1990s arms corruption trial.
Ramaphosa won a reprieve ahead of the conference when the ANC used its majority in parliament to block a possible impeachment inquiry
But the action is unlikely to hamper Ramaphosa’s chances of securing a second term as ANC leader.
A victory would secure him a ticket to a fresh term as president after the 2024 elections, if his party wins that vote.
Ramaphosa won a reprieve ahead of the conference when the ANC used its majority in parliament to block a possible impeachment inquiry.
He is leading the list of only two nominated presidential candidates so far and is seen to be the most viable in the absence of better options in the 110-year-old party.
The ex-trade unionist fronted the historic negotiations to end apartheid and helped draft the constitution – hailed as one of Africa’s most progressive charters.
Dodging the impeachment bullet likely emboldened his re-election bid, analysts say.
His rival is his former health minister Zweli Mkhize, who is facing corruption allegations linked to Covid-19 funds.
The venerable party was shaped by Nelson Mandela into the main weapon that ended apartheid.
But its image today is stained by corruption and factionalism.
- Declining vote share -
Protests spiralled into looting last year when Zuma was jailed for contempt of court for snubbing a probe into state corruption.
Ramaphosa is leading the list of only two nominated presidential candidates so far
Ramaphosa told a party fundraising dinner Thursday night that the conference was “a watershed moment” which will “determine where South Africa goes not only (for) the next five years but in the next decade and beyond that”.
Over the past decade, the party has lost its grip over key cities in municipal elections.
Its showing in this battlefield slumped last year under 50 percent for the first time.
On a national level, the ANC won the 2019 election with 57.5 percent of the vote, down from 62.15 percent in 2014.
But it remains South Africa’s largest party with 230 out of 400 seats in the National Assembly.
Whoever emerges victorious in the vote will have to defuse anger at crippling power cuts and entrenched poverty.