JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) is preparing for a leadership contest which could decide whether it will reinforce the pattern of Africa’s well-documented post-colonial failures or break away from a dark past into a bright future for Africa’s largest economy.
Report by BBC
The stakes could not be higher for President Jacob Zuma – he is up for re-election at the conference in Mangaung, where the ANC was founded 100 years ago.
With the ANC’s huge majority in South Africa, whoever leads the party is virtually assured of leading the country after the 2014 elections.
In 2007, Zuma was catapulted into the top job at the previous such conference in Polokwane when he ousted his long-term friend and comrade, then-President Thabo Mbeki, in a humiliating defeat by a majority of 61% to 39%. Since the ANC opened nominations on October 1, those who support a second term for Zuma seem to be in the majority compared to those who support his much loved, but somewhat reserved deputy Kgalema Motlanthe – the only other candidate.
Zuma’s successes in his first term have been partially overshadowed recently by the Marikana massacre, when 34 striking miners were shot dead by police during a bloody pay dispute at the Lonmin platinum mine on 16 August – the most deadly police action since the end of apartheid.
His critics say that Zuma’s lethargic style of leadership is fuelling the decline of his ANC and the economy, which is struggling to maintain growth rates enjoyed elsewhere on the continent.
Another dark cloud hanging over Zuma, sometimes referred to by his clan name Msholozi, is his alleged use of public money to fund a multi-million dollar renovation at his private rural homestead in Nkandla.
Public protector Thuli Madonsela is investigating whether a government department is funding home improvements amounting to R248 million, at a time when miners are fighting to earn a salary of R12 500 per month.
Reports in local newspapers said building costs include a clinic, helicopter pad and underground bunkers, among other facilities. Zuma denies any wrongdoing, saying he took out a mortgage for the development.
Another charge which may affect Zuma’s support in Mangaung is that of widespread corruption.
There is a perception that under his leadership, corruption is on the rise and that his family is benefiting from nepotism by getting business deals purely because they are related to the President.