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South Africa's Zuma confident of victory at party conference

December 16, 2012|By Robyn Dixon

BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa – Defending his government’s record and calling for an end to corruption, South African President Jacob Zuma addressed the opening session of the ruling African National Congress’ national conference, at which he expected to comfortably be returned to party leadership.

Zuma faces competition from Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, for the leadership post, which essentially determines who will be the South African president after elections in 2014.

But he appeared confident of maintaining power Sunday, as the hall erupted with deafening cheers and battle songs during his appearance, at which he wore a leather jacket in the ANC colors of yellow, green and black. In addition to speaking, Zuma danced and sang about Nelson Mandela, the party’s elder statesman, who is in the hospital recovering from a lung infection and surgery for gallstones.

South African media reported that the Zuma camp was furious that Motlanthe is contesting the leadership spot. Zuma seized power from his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, at a similar conference five years ago.

The ANC is so deeply divided that some party members in several provinces have taken party officials to court over allegations of manipulation of voting or other improprieties in recent elections.

Zuma himself once faced more than 700 corruption charges, which were dropped two weeks before the 2009 general election, opening the way for him to become president.

Zuma's ally, businessman Cyril Ramaphosa, running as deputy ANC president on Zuma’s ticket, is also likely to win, which would automatically make him South African deputy president, putting him in position to succeed Zuma as national president in the 2019 elections.

After his rousing song, Zuma complained about “alien tendencies” in the party, accusing party members of vote-buying and vote fraud – the same accusations that his opponents in the party make of his supporters.

Zuma also conceded problems in education and called on teachers to arrive on time at schools, and dressed decently.

"Let me repeat the call to all our teachers, that they should be in school, in class, on time, teaching for seven hours every school day next year.”

To cheers, he threatened surprise school inspections.

“I want [school] inspectors to come back,” said Zuma, departing from his speech to deliver a proposal likely to be unpopular with teacher unions. “Comrades in education don’t like it, but they must implement it.”

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