South Africa's president Jacob Zuma said his country is not “falling apart” as he opened a conference which will decide whether he remains as leader of the African National Congress.
The 70 year old, whose five years at the helm of the party that has led South Africa since the end of Apartheid have been marked by corruption and drift, called on delegates to re-elect him today.
Mr Zuma launched what is expected to be a successful defence of his position from Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, with a song paying tribute to his predecessor and ANC hero Nelson Mandela. As the conference, held every five years, got underway in the central city of Mangaung, images of Mr Mandela, currently recovering from an operation, were everywhere: cut-outs were draped from lamp-posts and his name evoked in speeches and song.
His successors, first Thabo Mbeki and then Mr Zuma, are accused of squandering his legacy and leading the rainbow nation into a state of dissolution. The massacre at the Marikana mine earlier this year the worst mass killing by the police since the end of Apartheid; and two credit downgrades have added to the perception that the country is in a downward spiral.
“Today, the ratings agencies and investors are asking whether the ANC can continue to manage this economy so that we can grow, create jobs, manage our debt and provide policy certainty,” Mr Zuma said. “Yes, the ANC will continue to provide strong economic leadership and steer our economy boldly.”
Behind the scenes the president has fought a bruising battle to hold on to the leadership. His rival, Mr Motlanthe, who briefly led the country as a caretaker president, has been accused of dithering and only declared his intention to challenge a few days before delegates arrived in Mangaung.
Mr Zuma appears to be relying on the return of anti-Apartheid hero Cyril Ramaphosa to frontline politics in order to restore some credibility. Mr Ramaphosa, a former head of the mineworkers' union went on to become South Africa's first black billionaire and will now challenge for the deputy leadership of the ANC. While he remains a powerful figure in the business world, his presence will do little to reassure the rank and file that the party elite is looking after their interests instead of lining its own pockets.