South Africa’s ruling party is battling to calm internal divisions that are threatening to disrupt preparations for its national conference next month as factions engage in a bitter fight over who will replace President Jacob Zuma as its leader.
The African National Congress’s National Executive Committee decided on Monday to confirm the leadership of the Eastern Cape province after a disputed conference in that region in September, according to two people familiar with the situation who asked not to be identified because the decision hasn’t been made public. The nod from the national body is seen as a boost to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa because the province’s executive supports his bid to succeed Zuma when he steps down in December.
The party will also name a team of national leaders to investigate complaints of violence that marred the Eastern Cape conference, the people said. The grievances were brought mainly by backers of Ramaphosa’s rival, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the president’s ex-wife and former African Union Commission chairwoman. The disputes led to a deadlock in the meetings that took place over three days, spurring worries the faction fighting may delay the Dec. 16-20 conference.
“It raises concerns as to whether the party is really in a position to hold a credible conference,” said Ralph Mathekga, a Johannesburg-based independent political analyst. “You cannot kick the can down the road anymore.”
Postponing the conference would leave Zuma as ANC president at a time when his administration has been rocked by scandals and increased concern among investors seeking clarity on the political state of Africa’s most sophisticated economy. It could increase chances of a selloff of the rand and nation’s bonds and the risk of further downgrades to its credit rating.
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Both ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe and Treasurer-General Zweli Mkhize said last week the conference will go ahead on schedule.
The party, in what it described as a departure “from normal procedure,” issued a statement Monday dismissing reports that the National Executive Committee was discussing the removal of Mantashe from his position as “fake news.”
Factions supporting Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma are in a no-holds-barred fight over who are the rightful leaders of the party in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape. Divisions are rife too at many ANC branches, which are supposed to finish this week in making nominations for the new president and top leadership and picking delegates for the conference.
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Who becomes the ANC’s next leader will be its presidential candidate in general elections in 2019. The breakdown of unity threatens the party’s hopes of maintaining the majority in parliament it’s held since Nelson Mandela led it to victory in South Africa’s first multiracial vote in 1994.
Disgruntlement with Zuma’s rule saw the party’s share of the vote touch an all-time low of 54 percent in last year’s municipal elections, costing it control of Pretoria, the capital, and the economic hub of Johannesburg.
Ramaphosa has made the fight against corruption the centerpiece of his campaign and issued thinly veiled attacks on Zuma. The president has faced allegations that he allowed members of the Gupta family to loot billions of rand from state companies. Zuma and the Guptas, who are in business with the president’s son, deny wrongdoing.
Some allies of Zuma implicated in the scandals probably fear that if their faction loses in December, they could face prosecution, said Mcebisi Ndletyana, a political science professor at the University of Johannesburg.
So far prosecutors and police investigators have been slow to probe allegations of wrongdoing by Zuma and his supporters. While reports by the nation’s auditor-general and graft ombudsman point to a rampant misuse of state funds, officials are rarely held to account.
“There is a lot at stake for people to lose, and because of wrongdoing, there is the possibility that those who are kicked out of power become vulnerable to legal prosecution,” Ndletyana said. “You have those who are deeply implicated and who know that for them this is do or die — they might go for the kamikaze option to collapse the conference.”
— With assistance by Michael Cohen