Africa Confidential/allAfrica

The battle for succession in the African National Congress is getting nastier as its outcome looks more uncertain. Supporters of the main protagonists fight their battles, firstly within the ANC structures, then in the security services, the courts and the state broadcasting service.

For months, the main contest was between national President Jacob Zuma, who seeks re-election as ANC President, and the party’s Deputy President, Kgalema Motlanthe. Now, the field is opening up, with Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale and business tycoon Cyril Ramaphosa emerging as serious contenders. Even long-term backers of Zuma now concede that he might not be able to finish a second presidency but argue that he is needed to steer the party through the next few troubled years.

ANC traditionalists abhor such personality contests in the party and the contenders remain coy about their plans. The leadership contest doesn’t formally start until October and will be decided at the party’s elective conference in December at Mangaung (formerly Bloemfontein), capital of Free State. Of the three challengers, the gentlemanly Motlanthe looks the most committed; Sexwale and Ramaphosa could still strike a deal with the Zuma camp which could, on paper, leave them as heirs apparent in five years’ time.

Aside from the personality element, the ANC leadership race is about control of provincial branches, the security services and the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC). Hostility, from differing quarters, has been growing against Zuma: from nationalist ‘tenderpreneurs’ such as sacked ANC Youth League (ANCYL) leader Julius Malema to national trades union leader Zwelinzima Vavi (see Box). All the challengers are struggling to cut into Zuma’s support in the provinces. Nothing is set in stone yet. Sexwale’s strategists say their candidate is positioning himself in case the cautious Motlanthe withdraws his candidacy at the last minute. Others say that Sexwale doesn’t want to confront the wily Zuma head on, but wants to put down a marker now.  Read now…