Technically, South Africans will choose their new president two
years from now. But since the ruling African National Congress
controls nearly 70 percent of the vote, the real choices voters face
in 2009 already will have been made, by the ANC, at a party
conference that takes place this December in the northern city of
The ANC conference will have all the makings of a reality TV show
like "Survivor," minus the ubiquitous cameras. At Polokwane, a new
generation of ANC leaders - millionaire businessmen, strong-willed
women, feisty trade unionists, ethnic nationalists, and at least one
accused bribe-taker - will be lining up for their chance to take
over the party from ANC president Thabo Mbeki, and in 2009, rule the
The ANC's 52nd National Conference will be held behind closed
doors, but the succession battle burst onto the public stage this
week after votes by provincial party delegates indicated that Mr.
Mbeki's bitter rival, Jacob Zuma, has built a solid lead.
Still, analysts say that a delegate's vote conducted in the open
at the provincial level may change dramatically in the secret ballot
process expected in Polokwane, and any candidate could emerge
victorious. In such a crucial handover of power, from the first
generation of post-apartheid leaders to the second, there is an
unprecedented lack of clarity.
"This is a struggle over which direction the ANC wants to go in,"
says Sheila Meintjes, head of the political science department of
Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg. "Usually we know what is
going to happen and who is going to lead. Now it's very interesting.
Who will lead the country after 2009? The race is very open."
Jacob Zuma's surge
The two frontrunners in the race to become ANC president are very
familiar faces here: Mbeki, who is forbidden from a third term as
president of the country, but can remain president of the ANC; and
former ANC deputy president Mr. Zuma, who was fired in 2005 in the
wake of a scandal over an arms deal in which Zuma was accused of
taking a bribe.
Charges against Zuma were dropped last year, after a court threw
out evidence obtained during a search of Zuma's house and those of
his lawyers, but last week the Supreme Court allowed prosecutors to
readmit evidence in the case.
Zuma's supporters have cried foul. Zuma himself has threatened to
take down much of the ANC leadership with him, calling them as
Far from a diminished figure, however, Zuma seems to have
strengthened his position.
According to recent votes by delegates at the provincial party
level, 2,270 delegates voted for Zuma to be ANC president, and 1,396
delegates voted for Mbeki. Even the ANC Women's League backed Zuma,
instead of either Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma
(Zuma's ex-wife) or Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, both of
whom were thought to be Mbeki's choice as candidates for the
national presidential race in 2009.
Many disaffected ANC members and other allies are rallying around
Zuma, a man they see as the voice of the 40 percent of South
Africans who are jobless, the residents of shantytowns, the trade
unionists, and the tens of millions who remain in poverty despite 14
years of freedom. …