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South Africa President Zuma to face leadership challenge

December 13, 2012|By Robyn Dixon
  • South African President Jacob Zuma, left, and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, right, at the opening of Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, on Feb. 9.
South African President Jacob Zuma, left, and Deputy President Kgalema… (Schalk van Zuydam / Associated…)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- South Africa President Jacob Zuma, the controversial leader facing intense criticism for a $30-million government-paid upgrade to his private house, will face competition next week to remain head of the ruling African National Congress party.

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe announced Thursday he would accept a nomination to run against Zuma as president of the ANC.

The party vote essentially decides who will be the South African president after 2014 elections, with the ANC politically dominant and seen as certain to win the  the top office. A party conference starts Sunday.

Zuma has been criticized over the work done at his home at Nkandla, in KwaZulu-Natal. He also faced embarrassment over recent media revelations of lavish and reckless personal spending, well beyond his means, regularly defaulting on bank loans and repeatedly relying on friends in business and politics (including revered former president Nelson Mandela) to bail him out.

The publication in the weekly Mail and Guardian of a secret auditor's report detailing Zuma's chaotic personal finances raised new questions about the decision of South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority to drop corruption charges against Zuma just weeks before a general election in 2009.

In its centenary year, the party of anti-apartheid hero  Mandela -- recently hospitalized with a lung infection -- has never been so divided according to analysts, with many in the party deeply concerned about whether Zuma's  leadership will  result in a substantial decline in voter support for the ANC in 2014.

The Zuma camp reportedly approached Motlanthe about not running, but he refused, according to South African media reports. Motlanthe will also run for the position of deputy president and faces Zuma ally, businessman Cyril Ramaphosa.

Political analyst Justice Malala, writing in the South African newspaper the Times  this month, said Motlanthe probably would fail to win either the presidency of the party or the deputy president's post.

He said those who supported Zuma, if he's victorious, would demand top government posts in return, at the expense of the anti-Zuma faction, known in the South African media as the ABZ camp (Anyone but Zuma).

“Zuma’s supporters will be champing at the bit to be appointed to top government and cabinet positions,” Malala wrote. Zuma "has been transported to power by people who want to ascend to the top table, people who want to eat just as much as they perceive others to have been eating before them.”

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