JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa’s governing African National Congress voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to keep President Jacob Zuma as the head of the nation’s dominant political force, more than likely guaranteeing the politician another five years as the country’s president.
Zuma trounced Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, his only challenger who ran a largely muted and reluctant campaign, getting 2,983 votes to Motlanthe’s 991. A smiling Zuma came to the stage immediately after the announcement, waving to the cheering crowd with both hands.
“We can boast that we’re a leader of our society, that therefore we have something to contribute to the democratic life of this country, to this democratic Republic of South Africa,” Zuma said in brief remarks after his victory. “We are certain that at this course in our democracy we are correct, that what we do at all material times, it is in the interest, not just of our organization, but of our country and its people.”
The ANC voted to install wealthy businessman Cyril Ramaphosa as deputy president of the party.
Ramaphosa is a former union leader who was African National Congress general secretary during the constitutional negotiations that ended apartheid in 1994. He went on to found an investment empire with interests that include a power plant, McDonald’s franchises, a Coca-Cola bottler and mines. In November, Forbes magazine estimated his net worth to be about $675 million.
Ramaphosa has been a leading figure behind the scenes in the ANC, though he shuns interviews and publicly offered no comments on policy or political matters ahead of the vote. His election sent Motlanthe out of the top rungs of power after his challenge. Zuma and Motlanthe later embraced for several seconds and spoke together on stage in view of delegates.
Some 4,000 delegates voted in the ANC’s leadership contest early Tuesday morning at the party’s Mangaung conference, being held in the city also known as Bloemfontein. By picking Zuma, the party likely picked the next president of this nation of 50 million people, as opposition parties lack the support the ANC enjoys in South Africa.
The run-up to the conference has seen disrupted provincial meetings, threats and shootings of local ANC officials, as corruption allegations trail from the smallest local government to Zuma at the top.
That has many wondering whether the ANC still remains the party of reconciliation and racial fellowship that icon Nelson Mandela and others envisioned.
Zuma, 70, was the favorite heading into the conference after winning the nominations in most provincial ANC polls. He has wide support among Zulus, South Africa’s largest ethnic group, as well as from a loyal cadre of government and party officials.
But many in the public have grown disenchanted with Zuma, who former President Thabo Mbeki fired as deputy president in 2005 after he was implicated in the corruption trial of close friend and financial adviser Schabir Shaik over a 1999 arms deal. Newspapers have written numerous articles recently about the millions of dollars of government-paid improvements made to Zuma’s private homestead.
Zuma has also faced accusations, by the media, of being unable to manage his personal finances and relying on friends and colleagues to bail him out, including, allegedly, Mandela himself.
Zuma has also faced criticism over his sexual activity. He was put on trial on charges of raping a family friend, and acquitted, in 2006. He also outraged AIDS activists by testifying that he had unprotected, consensual sex with the HIV-positive woman and then took a shower in the belief that it would protect him from AIDS. In the time since, however, Zuma has publicized his own HIV test results and urged the nation to practice safe sex.
He and the ANC also have been criticized for strikes that overtook the nation, particularly in the mining sector, and the handling of violence at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana in August that sparked labor unrest at other mines.
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP .