South Africa ANC election: Who are the candidates? What will happen to Zuma? All you need to know

Thousands of delegates will gather in Johannesburg to decide the next leader of the African National Congress

Caroline Mortimer
Saturday 16 December 2017 00:05 GMT
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa sharing a light moment at a conference in Durban, South Africa in 2015. If the rift between their two factions is not healed after the vote if could lead to a political crisis
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa sharing a light moment at a conference in Durban, South Africa in 2015. If the rift between their two factions is not healed after the vote if could lead to a political crisis (Getty)

South Africa’s future is set to be decided this weekend as its ruling party, the African National Congress, meets to elect its new leader.

Thousands of delegates from across South Africa will gather at the conference centre in Johannesburg where they are to choose between two candidates: the bookies’ favourite, deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, and Jacob Zuma’s choice, his ex-wife and party loyalist, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Whoever is chosen is likely to go on to become the next president of South Africa when Mr Zuma stands down in 2019.

The decision comes at a time when the country is at a crossroads. The ANC has ruled the country for 23 years since the end of the apartheid system and there are signs voters may finally have tired of the party.

Political fatigue

The ANC’s popularity stems from the role its leaders played in ending white minority rule and many have continued to place their trust in the veterans of their fight for freedom.

But while the ANC is still likely to win in 2019 there are signs that South African voters are beginning to turn their backs on them as many of their leaders are mired in allegations of corruption.

During last year’s local elections the ANC only polled 54 per cent – it’s worst result since 1994.

Meanwhile, the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has been growing in popularity since it was founded in 2000 and now controls the local government in Western Cape, one of the country’s nine provinces.

In July the South African Reserve Bank cut its benchmark interest rate for the first in five years to 6.75 per cent in a bid to stave off recession.

The central bank estimated that the country’s GDP would grow just 0.5 per cent over during 2017.

In addition, several international credit rating agencies said political instability and questions over who would replace Mr Zuma were a major factor in their decision to cut the South Africa rate to “junk”.

Chris Vandome, a South Africa analyst at Chatham House, told The Independent that the poor state of the economy is the biggest issue facing the country but the party has been subsumed by infighting – leaving a “policy vacuum” at the top.

South Africa is rapidly urbanising and people’s expectations of what they want from their government are growing.

“The South African economy is still very unequal and it is still very racialised” and has “not really recovered from the 2007-8 financial crisis”, he said.

Under Mr Zuma’s watch unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, has remained high and the lives of the poor black majority have not improved as dramatically as many would like.

Mr Vandome said: “Under Mr Zuma’s regime, he has demonstrated he is the kind of person to act in a certain way regardless of the economic consequences to protect his own political power.”

The President, who came to power in 2009, is currently facing 783 criminal charges, which are mostly to do with corruption.

The candidates

Of the two major candidates for the presidency, it is Ms Dlamini-Zuma that Mr Zuma’s critics most fear.

The former health minister and chair of the African Union (AU) Commission is regarded as something of a “continuity candidate” and her policies have been criticised for looking backwards.

She has favoured a vague ANC pledge to introduce a “radical economic transformation” which will see a greater redistribution of wealth to the black majority.

But Mr Ramaphosa, a former trade union leader who helped draft the country’s 1996 constitution, has pledged to focus the fight on corruption and reduce unemployment.

He is seen as the better choice for the country’s economy.

Mr Vandome said the “international markets would react positively” to Mr Ramaphosa’s election because he is seen as a successful businessman, which could increase the foreign direct investment the country needs to develop.

The 65-year-old is estimated the have a net worth of around $450m (£340m) making him one of the country’s richest men.

Many are also concerned about Ms Dlamini-Zuma’s plans for the party.

Mr Vandome said the concerns are not necessarily to do with the 68-year-old herself but the people who have campaigned for her.

He described some of her supporters as “people who have sought political power for material benefit”.

What happens to Zuma?

The biggest issue people will want the new leader to tackle is corruption, Mr Vandome added.

If Ms Dlamini-Zuma is elected it has been assumed that she will protect Mr Zuma from the outstanding criminal charges but Mr Vandome said this is not necessarily true.

Although he said a prosecution is more likely to happen under Mr Ramaphosa, who has said he believes Mr Zuma’s accuser in a 2006 rape trial where he was acquitted, he warned Ms Dlamini-Zuma may feel she has to demonstrate she is fighting corruption.

He said: “The biggest political issue is corruption.

“Whoever wins will have to demonstrate that they are going to do something about it”.

What could happen, Mr Vandome said, is that if Mr Dlamini-Zuma wins Mr Zuma will be able to serve out the rest of his term but if Mr Ramaphosa succeeds he may be removed from office a year early.

Mr Zuma has become increasingly unpopular during his time in office as allegations against him increase.

He is most notorious for his links to the Gupta family.

Supporters of the president and people calling for Mr Zuma’s removal clash outside the Gupta family’s home in Johannsburg (Reuters)

Brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta have been accused of using Mr Zuma to manipulate the running of the South African government.

Critics allege the brothers were trying to “capture the state” to advance their business interests and former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas said a member of the family had offered to promote him in 2015.

They were also criticised in 2013 when it emerged a plane carrying guests to a family wedding had landed at an air base in Pretoria which is usually reserved for visiting heads of state and diplomatic delegations, the BBC reported.

The future

Although some see Mr Ramphosa’s election as a break with the past, Mr Vandome warns “the economy could get worse before it gets better”.

“It is going to take a lot of time to put the economy on the [right] track,” he added.

There are also concerns that the result, and the loser’s refusal to accept it, could lead to a civil war within the party which would paralyse the country’s political leadership.

There have already been bitter clashes between the rival factions in the run up to the conference with physical clashes and lawsuits being deployed by both sides, The Guardian reported.

But regardless of the outcome, the election will mark a turning point.

Like in neighbouring Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe was forced out of office after 37 years, the country is moving away from a political climate where its anti-apartheid heroes are venerated and rewarded at the ballot box despite their records in office.

Instead of looking to its past, South Africa is focused on its future.

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