Billionaire waits in wings as ANC re-elects Jacob Zuma as its leader

Apartheid-era hero Cyril Ramaphosa returns to frontline politics as deputy leader
  • @howden_africa

Jacob Zuma was re-elected as leader of the African National Congress yesterday but his comfortable victory has done little to conceal bitter divisions in South Africa's ruling party.

The singing and dancing Mr Zuma saw off the challenge of his national deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, taking three-quarters of delegates' votes at the party conference. The win effectively confirms him as president for another term after 2014, thanks to the ANC's stranglehold on national politics, but will not dampen accusations of corruption and ineffectual leadership.

The vote also confirmed the return of Cyril Ramaphosa – an ANC hero from the apartheid struggle who quit politics to make a fortune in business – to frontline politics as the party's deputy leader.

Mr Zuma turned to South Africa's richest man in a bid to reassure investors that his rocky handling of sub-Saharan Africa's biggest economy will improve. Some observers question whether the new deputy will do much to reassure unemployed black citizens that the party still cares about them.

"I do not think electing a billionaire as the deputy president sends the correct message about the commitment to fight inequality," said Adam Habib, professor of politics at Witwatersrand University.

Attention will now turn to expelled ANC youth league leader Julius Malema, a central figure five years ago when Mr Zuma toppled Thabo Mbeki, who waits to learn whether his bid for reacceptance has worked.

Mr Ramaphosa is popular with the ANC's intellectual and pro-business wings but his appointment may anger left-wingers who favour nationalising South Africa's mining industry.

Mr Malema has managed to maintain a national profile since his expulsion from the party by repeatedly calling for the state to take over mines.

Mr Ramaphosa, who will now be favourite to lead the country in 2018 after Mr Zuma's second term, came to prominence in the labour movement but is now part of the business elite. The former head of the national union of mineworkers is on the board of mining giant Lonmin, the owners of the Marikana mine where 34 workers were killed by police earlier this year. Not only did he fail to speak out about workers' rights during the massacre, he had called for police intervention against strikers.

The businessman, whose interests include running McDonald's in South Africa, was among the favourites to succeed Nelson Mandela when he stood down in 1998. However, Mr Mbeki was preferred and Mr Ramaphosa stepped out of the political limelight to concentrate on his business interests.