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South African President Jacob Zuma retains ANC leadership

His reelection at the party's leadership conference means the scandal-plagued Zuma is likely to stay in office after 2014 national elections.

December 18, 2012|By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times
  • South African President Jacob Zuma celebrates after being reelected as head of the ruling African National Congress at a party conference.
South African President Jacob Zuma celebrates after being reelected as… (EPA )

BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa — President Jacob Zuma, who has come under criticism as an ineffective leader of South Africa, was reelected Tuesday for a second term as head of the ruling African National Congress.

After the party conference vote, Zuma, a controversial figure who has faced numerous scandals, including the use of public money for renovations to his house and corruption charges that were inexplicably dropped in 2009, called for unity and belted out a song. Delegates clad in made-in-China ANC outfits sang, danced, stomped and videorecorded one another with their cellphones.

Despite Zuma's landslide win, which makes it likely he will remain South African president after national elections in 2014, some analysts questioned how well the party will do in those elections if he remains its standard-bearer.

The ANC, which won nearly 66% of the vote in the last election, in 2009, is at risk of faring much worse in the next contest, said William Gumede, a political analyst.

"If Zuma is the face of the ANC in 2014, I think the ANC will bleed votes and the opposition will gain votes," he said, predicting a decline of 5% to 10% in the party's vote tally. He said Zuma had shown his tight control over the party, but popular support for him was less certain "because we are seeing people protesting across South Africa."

The conference also elected wealthy businessman and former unionist Cyril Ramaphosa as the party's deputy president, making him the probable national deputy president after the 2014 elections.

Ramaphosa's wealth, which Forbes magazine estimates at $275 million, may make him a target for criticism in a country still struggling with deeply entrenched economic inequality. But his business credentials offer the chance for an improvement in relations between the government and business, analysts say.

Political analyst Adam Habib said Ramaphosa's election was at odds with the ANC's stated commitment to improving economic equality.

"The ANC says it's committed to the notion of economic transformation. If that is true, how do you elect a billionaire as your deputy president?" he asked. (Ramaphosa is worth more than 2 billion rand, South Africa's currency.) "He has an admirable political record, but his track record on economic transformation is abysmal."

Habib also questioned assumptions that Ramaphosa would improve Zuma's image with business and urban voters — or that the government's performance would improve because of him.

"If we continue to have the sex and financial scandals associated with the president, you might see the reputation of Cyril Ramaphosa being besmirched by his association with President Zuma," Habib said.

Ramaphosa led the ANC team that negotiated the end of the apartheid racist system, leading to the nation's first democratic election in 1994. He left politics 1997 after losing a bid to succeed South Africa's first black president, Nelson Mandela, and instead went into business. Ramaphosa's Shanduka Group made a fortune and has interests in mining, fastfood,real estate and banking.

Zuma's call for unity Tuesday came after his supporters taunted their defeated opponents, singing deafening songs, whistling, cheering and blowing plastic trumpets as a party chaplain tried vainly to quiet them for a prayer.

But Zuma said his election and that of his allies must be seen as a decision of the whole party.

"The national conference has spoken and all of us are part of that decision. I don't think we should continue to say some things, which I don't want to say, that would make another comrade not feel comfortable," Zuma told the crowd gathered in a sweltering giant tent decked in black, gold and green. "If you elected us as leaders of this organization, it must be a united organization, not a divided organization."

But Gumede, the analyst, said the ANC remained divided and that Zuma was under intense pressure to reward his supporters with government jobs, meaning his opponents are likely to be marginalized in the future, as happened after Zuma defeated former President Thabo Mbeki in the last ANC national conference, in 2007.

"Some people might leave the party after the conference, but even if they don't leave the party, others will go home very disgruntled and unhappy," Gumede said, "and they may resist the party when they go back to their provinces, and that may cause paralysis and ineffective governance."

Habib said that despite his big win, Zuma still faced a sizable minority in the party that is strongly opposed to him. He won 2,983 votes to 991 for his rival, national Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. The Zuma faction won a clean sweep of the top six leadership positions.

The election results came as four men — at least two from the Federale Vryheids Party, a tiny extremist faction — appeared in court on charges of terrorism and treason for an alleged plot to detonate a bomb at the conference.

robyn.dixon@latimes.com

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