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South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma accused business interests of trying to sway this weekend’s critical vote by the ruling African National Congress on his successor as leader as the party gathered in Johannesburg.
As he opened the five-yearly vote on the ANC leadership, Mr Zuma said that the party had “received threats that the ANC will implode and the economy will collapse” if it voted for the wrong candidate.
The vote is pitting Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Mr Zuma’s ex-wife and a former minister, against Cyril Ramaphosa, the deputy president who has run on a promise to clear the ANC of corruption, and is backed by big business.
“We need to find ways of protecting the ANC from corporate greed,” said Mr Zuma in his last speech as leader of the party. He called for unity after the vote adding that infighting was “threatening the survival of the ANC.”
Mr Zuma has denied backing Ms Dlamini-Zuma, telling South Africa’s state broadcaster on Friday that “I don’t want to take sides. But it is widely believed that he has thrown his support behind her. Analysts say he is betting that as state president Ms Dlamini-Zuma will impede any attempt to prosecute him over alleged corruption.
The winner could be South Africa’s next president as they will lead the ANC into elections in 2019, when Mr Zuma’s second and final term as president is due to end.
Analysts say the result is too close to call in a race that could split the ANC, which is at its most divided in 24 years in power over the allegations of state looting during Mr Zuma’s presidency.
A majority of the ANC’s local branches across the country nominated Mr Ramaphosa to be leader — but delegates at the conference, who number more than 5,000, could vote differently, amid concerns over bribery and intimidation.
The beginning of the vote was nearly thrown into disarray on Saturday, after courts said that some delegations sent from provinces that are likely to support Ms Dlamini-Zuma were illegitimate — including the party’s local leadership in KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State.
The ANC’s top decision-making body decided in an emergency meeting on Saturday to bar the delegations from voting in the conference, dealing a blow to Ms Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign. Mr Zuma said on Saturday that “judges should not be asked to dictate ANC organisational processes and the direction of the movement.”
Earlier on Saturday, Mr Zuma announced a pledge for nearly all university education to be state-funded — a policy that may boost support for Ms Dlamini-Zuma, who has called for free education in her campaign.
Funding the measure will increase the pressure on the government’s yearly budget in February, as South Africa’s treasury battles to avoid the country’s credit rating being downgraded further into junk status given the sluggish economy.