World News

Disputes Delay Vote on African National Congress Leader

Posted December 17, 2017 4:27 p.m. EST

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s ruling party moved slowly Sunday to elect a leader to replace scandal-plagued President Jacob Zuma, as disputes over delegates’ credentials delayed the vote.

Officials with the party, the African National Congress, said a new leader would emerge Monday morning at the earliest.

On Sunday, officials also said that 400 delegates had been disqualified, leaving nearly 4,800 to decide who would succeed Zuma.

Delegates from across the country have gathered at a national conference in Johannesburg to elect the next party leader. Given the ANC’s dominance in Parliament, the winner is almost certain to become South Africa’s next president.

In the weeks leading up to the conference, several provincial branches became embroiled in legal battles over who would cast votes there. Then, as the five-day conference began Saturday, disputes over credentials flared up.

The party’s deputy general secretary, Jessie Duarte, said officials had taken care to go through the process properly to avoid possible legal challenges. “This is to ensure credibility of the process,” Duarte said at a news conference.

The two front-runners — Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s ex-wife — have been locked in a tight race, each representing starkly different visions for the party that has governed South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Ramaphosa, 65, the country’s deputy president, is popular among business groups and voters in urban areas, especially the black middle-class.

Dlamini-Zuma, 68, his main rival, was most recently chairwoman of the African Union Commission. A medical doctor and veteran politician, she is supported by Zuma, with whom she has four children. She enjoys strong backing among her husband’s staunchest supporters: rural voters, as well as the party’s women’s and youth league.

While Dlamini-Zuma has emphasized a populist message focusing on redistributing the country’s wealth from white to black residents, Ramaphosa, who was also one of the country’s richest businessmen, has focused on growing the economy and making it more attractive to investors.

Analysts have said the race is too close to call, but over the weekend, amid horse-trading and private negotiations, there were indications that Ramaphosa was pulling ahead.

The local news media reported that the disqualification of the 400 voters appeared to have favored Ramaphosa. The party’s national chairwoman, Baleka Mbete, who had also been running for party leader, announced that she would endorse Ramaphosa.

Mbete said that in discussing with him the challenges facing the party and the country, “We have agreed a whole lot more.” She said there was “never an opportunity” to hold similar discussions with Dlamini-Zuma.