JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Delegates of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) gathered on Sunday to choose a new party leader, pitting President Cyril Ramaphosa against former health minister Zweli Mkhize.
The winner, who will run for president under the ANC banner in elections in 2024, has been more or less guaranteed to become president in the three decades since Nelson Mandela ended white minority rule in the country.
But this is no longer a certainty as the ANC’s popularity has waned over that period and the party faces the possibility of losing its majority for the first time.
More than 4,400 delegates at the ANC’s five-day conference in Johannesburg must decide which of the two candidates is best placed to revive its fortunes. They will vote on Sunday after the ANC nominated the two candidates late on Saturday.
Their supporters battled in a sing-off in the early hours of Sunday morning as nominations were being finalised. Ramaphosa’s backers were singing songs in support of him and were holding up two fingers signalling a second term as leader.
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Mkhize’s supporters were chanting “change” and “He (Ramaphosa) is not coming back!”
Ramaphosa had been the favourite to win until he came under pressure to step down over a scandal involving the discovery of a stash of cash at his farm. Ramaphosa has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crimes.
Former president Jacob Zuma’s supporters are seeking to use the scandal to oust Ramaphosa.
Zuma is facing inquiries over several corruption allegations, all of which he denies.
Mkhize emerged as the most powerful politician from the Zuma block. Ramaphosa suspended him over corruption allegations into COVID-19 tenders last year, charges the ex-minister denies.
(Reporting by Kopano Gumbi; Writing by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Tim Cocks and Jane Merriman)
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