Mpumalanga Keeps Options Open in South African Ruling Party Race

(Bloomberg) -- The South African province that will send the second-most delegates to the ruling African National Congress’ conference this month is keeping its options open about who it will back as the party’s next leader, with almost half of its branches declining to name their candidate yet.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a lawmaker and former chairwoman of the African Union Commission, was endorsed for the ANC presidency by 123 party branches in Mpumalanga, while 117 supported Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, tallies released Friday at a meeting in the eastern town of Mbombela show. There were 223 abstentions by branches who want a so-called “unity candidate.”

It’s unclear how delegates from those branches will vote should no consensus be reached on who should take over from President Jacob Zuma as party leader at the Dec. 16-20 congress. Mpumalanga province will account for about 14 percent of the 5,240 voting delegates.

Ramaphosa holds the lead with nominations from five of the nine regions announced, having won backing from the Western Cape, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape. Dlamini-Zuma was endorsed by the central Free State province. The deputy president so far has 859 branches to 417 for Dlamini-Zuma. The winner will be the party’s candidate in a national vote in 2019 that will bring an end to Zuma’s second and final term.

Deep Divisions

The party election has divided the 105-year-old ANC like never before, with court challenges, allegations of rigging and outbreaks of violence marring the process of deciding who will attend and vote at the conference. The contest has also paralyzed several government departments as officials delay decisions until they learn who the new leaders will be.

“We are at a critical point where deep fractures and disunity are threatening the existence and the future of the ANC,” David Mabuza, premier of Mpumalanga and the party’s chairman in the province, said at Friday’s meeting. “Tough choices need to be made.”

The other four provinces are scheduled to make their preferences known over the next few days. Ninety percent of voting delegates will come from the branches, and the rest from the ANC’s leadership structures and leagues representing the youth, women and military veterans.

Mpumalanga Keeps Options Open in South African Ruling Party Race

While the branch nomination tallies are the best available indicator of who’s likely to win, they aren’t conclusive because some bigger branches are entitled to more than one delegate and there’s no guarantee members will vote as instructed. Ramaphosa and Zweli Mkhize, the ANC’s treasurer-general who is also contesting the party leadership, have both warned delegates against taking bribes in exchange for their votes.

Most investors favor Ramaphosa, 65, a lawyer, former labor union leader and one of the wealthiest black South Africans, who has pledged to revive the ailing economy, reduce a 28 percent unemployment rate and combat corruption if elected. Zuma’s preferred successor is his ex-wife Dlamini-Zuma, 68, who has echoed his call for “radical economic transformation” to place more of the country’s wealth in the hands of the black majority.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.