In December, South Africa’s ruling African National Congress will elect a new party leader to succeed beleaguered President Jacob Zuma and lead the party into national elections in 2019. Within the ANC, the campaign to replace Zuma officially has not started. But, in effect, it has been underway since the beginning of the year, with political maneuvering and jockeying behind the scenes.
This is a product of the ANC’s arcane internal procedures, a hangover from its years of exile when members viewed elections for party positions with suspicion and preferred so-called consensus candidates in order to avoid “disunity.” The fiction continues to be preserved that open competition for the party leadership is dangerous and that senior ANC figures should therefore wait to be called to serve, rather than openly seek party positions.
Despite these official protocols, which are more akin to those of the papacy than those of a political party in a modern constitutional democracy, two early front-runners have emerged, both of them with close ties to Zuma: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s former wife and the chair of the African Union from 2012 to 2016; and Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s deputy president under Zuma. If the contest becomes too divisive, another compromise candidate could step forward, but for now it looks like a race between Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa.