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South Africa’s ANC leadership contest a two-horse race

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By Tim Cocks and Alexander Winning

JOHANNESBURG (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – South Africa’s ruling African National Congress nominated just two candidates for its top post on Saturday, leaving President Cyril Ramaphosa facing the health minister he had suspended over corruption charges in a vote party.

The winner will have the ANC’s blessing to run for president in the 2024 election under its banner, historically a win for the best job in the country since party leader Nelson Mandela ended white minority rule in 1994.

The ANC’s five-day conference in Johannesburg exacerbated a bitter division between its two main rival power blocs, one around the current Ramaphosa and the other around former president Jacob Zuma.

Former health minister Zweli Mkhize, who emerged as Ramaphosa’s only challenger, is allied with Zuma’s faction. Ramaphosa placed Mkhize on special leave last year in the wake of allegations that his department irregularly awarded COVID-19-related contracts to a company controlled by his former partners.

Mkhize, who also ran against Ramaphosa when the latter won the charge in 2017, denies making a mistake. Both had been nominated before the conference and no more candidates were added from the floor as nominations closed around midnight Saturday.

After a fractious start to Friday’s rally, which saw Ramaphosa the subject of jeers, chanting and calls for his resignation from opponents, delegates to the ANC conference must decide which candidate is best placed to turn his fortunes around.

The ANC is less popular than ever and faces the real prospect of losing its majority in parliament.

Ramaphosa’s opponents want him to resign over a scandal surrounding the discovery of a stash of cash on his farm. He has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crime.

Ramaphosa was the favorite to lead the party in elections in 2024, but his candidacy was called into question when an independent group said last month that he may have engaged in misconduct over money found on his farm during a robbery.

The discovery raised questions about how he got the money, if he reported it and why he didn’t report it when the thieves broke in and removed it from the furniture.

MKHIZE AND THE ZUMA FACTION

Ramaphosa’s political woes have galvanized supporters of former leader Zuma, who is himself under investigation for allegedly colluding with three Indian businessmen to embezzle state funds during his tenure between 2009 and 2018, charges he denies.

Investors fear a return of the Zuma power bloc could threaten the reforms Ramaphosa has made to try to clean up the grand corruption associated with his predecessor, already under pressure from the farm money scandal.

Mkhize has always been the strongest challenger to Zuma’s camp: the other main contenders, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a cabinet minister and Zuma’s ex-wife, and Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu did not qualify to participate in the ballot.

Ramaphosa’s allies, and even some of his rivals, on Saturday condemned opponents who interrupted his keynote address with chanting and shouting during Friday’s conference, which could work in his favor.

“We must condemn (the disruption) because it is not the behavior of ANC members,” said Siboniso Duma, chairman of KwaZulu-Natal’s provincial ANC, the single largest power bloc seeking to oust Ramaphosa.

“You can’t just (make noise) when the president is speaking,” he told broadcaster Newzroom Afrika, reflecting backlash over Friday’s disruption that some people say could leave the president feeling stronger than he looked on Friday.

(Reporting by Tim Cocks and Alexander Winning; Additional reporting by Kopano Gumbi and Nqobile Dludla; ​​Editing by Chris Reese and Jonathan Oatis)