(Bloomberg) -- The premier of South Africa’s richest province warned the ruling African National Congress will lose its majority and extend an economic slump if it elects the wrong leaders this weekend.
“If it doesn’t give South Africa the leadership that will win public confidence, not only is the ANC going to lose 2019 elections, but the country will be in a much longer protracted economic disaster, with deep pain for ordinary people,” David Makhura, the 49-year-old premier of Gauteng, said in an interview at Bloomberg’s Johannesburg offices on Tuesday. “We have got to get a team of leaders who understand that South Africans are fed up with corruption and also fed up with an economy that is not performing.”
While Makhura didn’t directly name his preferred candidate, the overwhelming majority of ANC branches in Gauteng, which includes the capital, Pretoria, and the nation’s financial hub, Johannesburg, back Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, 65, for party leader. Makhura said he has confidence in the province’s choice for leaders.
More than 5,000 ANC delegates, including Makhura, will converge in Johannesburg from Dec. 16 to elect a successor for President Jacob Zuma as leader of the ANC and to be its presidential candidate for the 2019 elections. The party faces a critical moment to regain public and business confidence and pull Africa’s most-industrialized economy back from a downturn that has seen unemployment surge to 28 percent and poverty increase, Makhura said.
The majority of Gauteng delegates are pinning their hopes on Ramaphosa to restore confidence in an economy that was downgraded to junk this year amid political and policy uncertainty under Zuma. Former African Union Commission Chairwoman and Zuma’s ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, 68, is his main rival.
While Ramaphosa has spoken of the need to stamp out corruption and boost the economy through “inclusive growth,” Dlamini-Zuma is supported by senior party officials who propose policies that include expropriating land without compensation and increasing the share of mines that need to be owned by black South Africans. Ramaphosa is preferred by most investors.
While Ramaphosa was endorsed by more branches than Dlamini-Zuma across the country, she may benefit from the support of bigger branches in the mainly rural provinces that will send more than one delegate to the conference.
Makhura said he is confident there were good leaders among those nominated for the ANC’s six top positions, but wouldn’t rule out the possibility of delegates being paid to vote for certain candidates.
“A conference is a conference, so people may not always vote in accordance to what South Africa needs at the moment,” he said. “There are a lot of influences. People may vote according to what is factional politics or buying of votes.”
In power since the end of white-majority rule in 1994, the ANC suffered its worst electoral performance in last year’s local-government vote when it lost control of Pretoria, Johannesburg and the southern city, Port Elizabeth. The leadership contest has caused deep rifts within the 105-year-old party and weighed on the rand and the nation’s bonds. Business confidence fell to the lowest level in three decades.
There is a lot at stake at the weekend’s conference as the ANC’s own research has shown it will suffer in future elections under Zuma or a Zuma-backed candidate, said Susan Booysen, a professor at the University of Witwatersrand’s School of Governance.
©2017 Bloomberg L.P.