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South Africa: Let the Change Begin

2017 sees several important elections across Sub-Saharan Africa, including Angola, Kenya, Rwanda and Senegal. But arguably the most intriguing contest will be the ANC leadership poll in December. The winner will lead the party into the 2019 general election.In principle, it is possible for President Zuma to run again for the top ANC job.

While the constitutionally binding two-term limit means that he cannot to stand again for the State Presidency, Mr Zuma could remain as ANC head which would give him huge leverage in nominating their 2019 candidate. However, given his increasing unpopularity both inside and outside parliament, that could be a heavy blessing. In any case, the body language suggests that he can hardly wait to set his satnav to Nkandla.

As things stand there are no official runners or riders. Nonetheless, support has coalesced around Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Both have heavyweight party credentials and solid power bases. The former is the current Deputy President and has made smooth transitions from the leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers to successful businessman to high political office. Meanwhile, Ms Dlamini-Zuma has recently stepped down as the Chairperson of the Africa Union Commission having headed the Health, Foreign and Home Affairs portfolios in several ANC governments.

So far, the split among the roughly 4500 delegates who will decide the outcome looks fairly even. Mr Ramaphosa is backed by a significant chunk of the trade union movement and much of the ANC establishment, while the ANC Women and Youth Leagues have lined up behind President Zuma’s ex-wife.

The different views of their core supporters on the nature and pace of “structural transformation” point to a lively debate over the next few months. But at the end of it all the ANC needs a leader with a firm hand on tackling the deep-seated inequalities and frustrations which have underpinned a sharp slide in party and economic performance support over the last few years. Otherwise, the 2019 elections, which would mark 25 years since the first vote under universal adult suffrage in 1994, could be another watershed moment in South Africa’s political history.

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