Winnie Mandela ruled out of race for top ANC post

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Winnie Madikizela-Mandela appears to be out of the race to become deputy president of the African National Congress after an announcement by party leaders that she has lost the support of the ANC Women's League.

Four days after the end of special public hearings into her alleged involvement in at least six murders in the late 1980s, ANC sources claimed yesterday that the Women's League had withdrawn its nomination of Mrs Mandela for the deputy presidency.

An ANC spokesman also made the surprising claim that the League was not entitled to nominate anyone for the post anyway. Despite weeks of debate about Mrs Mandela's election bid, this was the first mention that the League, of which she is president, has no constitutional right to nominate a candidate. As the ANC leadership's claims ran on national radio yesterday the Women's League issued a statement insisting that it had not dropped Mrs Mandela from its nominations list for the party elections to be held next week.

Its general secretary, Bathabile Dlamini, said that "pertinent issues" were discussed at a League meeting at the weekend but a statement would not be released until the conference.

Despite the confusion it seems that the Women's League - severely split over Mrs Mandela's candidature - has finally bowed to party pressure and dropped her, but is angered at yesterday's premature announcement. It is believed that the League wanted time to work out a face-saving formula to allow it - and its president - to climb down. Although deselection almost certainly spells the end for Mrs Mandela's leadership ambitions - this time round - there is still an outside chance of her reaching the ballot paper next week.

It is still possible that a supporter could nominate her from the floor of the party conference. Her name would then go on to the ballot paper if the nomination had the support of 25 per cent of the 3,000 delegates.

Most provinces - including Mrs Mandela's powerbase, the Eastern Cape - have now announced that they are supporting the leadership's choice, Jacob Zuma, for deputy president. However, despite heavy pressure from the leadership, Mrs Mandela has still run a close second to Mr Zuma in some provinces, and on the day the ballot will be one-member one-vote and votes are cast in secret.

The weekend newspapers came out strongly against Mrs Mandela after her nine-day hearing before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Her attacks on her accusers and her blanket denial of involvements in murders and assaults allegedly committed by her notorious Mandela United Football Club were lampooned in cartoons and columns.

Yesterday the respected Business Day newspaper called for the party to finally take on Mrs Mandela head-on. Its leader writers said she showed utter contempt for the notion of accountability, and that she played on the dissatisfactions of the poor without presenting any alternative policies.