Court Action Buoys Ramaphosa's Bid to Lead South Africa's ANC

(Bloomberg) -- The fractious race to succeed South African President Jacob Zuma as leader of the African National Congress faced further disarray by court rulings likely to disqualify more than 100 delegates who were scheduled to vote at a party conference this weekend.

The decisions on the members in North West, KwaZulu-Natal and Free State provinces, which mainly support Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the president’s ex-wife and preferred candidate, buoyed her main rival, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. His running mate, Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, said that even before the court action, their campaign showed Ramaphosa leading by more than 300 votes.

The tight race to win the support of about 5,000 delegates has caused deep rifts in the ANC, weighed on the rand and nation’s bonds and unnerved investors seeking political and policy clarity. The rand has strengthened in recent days on confidence that Ramaphosa is leading the race and gained as much as 1.7 percent against the dollar on Friday in Johannesburg.

The election comes as Zuma’s immersion in a succession of scandals has weakened the 105-year-old party’s support to the extent that it’s now at risk of losing its majority in 2019 elections. In a municipal vote last year, the ANC ceded control of Pretoria, the capital, and Johannesburg, the economic hub, to a coalition of opposition parties in what Sisulu described as “a shock.”

Zuma’s Decision

Sisulu, speaking in an interview Friday at Bloomberg’s office in Johannesburg, suggested Zuma, 75, should step down as the nation’s president on his own accord, saying he needs to “do the right thing” after the leadership vote. His loss of the top party post could make him more vulnerable to legal action and being ousted.

“The best-case scenario is for the decision to come from Jacob Zuma himself,” she said.

Zuma was found by the nation’s top court to have violated his oath of office by refusing to repay taxpayer money spent on his private home and who’s been mired in allegations that he allowed members of the Gupta family to influence cabinet appointments and the awarding of state contracts. He and the Guptas deny wrongdoing.

While the leadership race has been marred by violence, lawsuits and allegations of bribery, Sisulu, 63, said she and Ramaphosa, 65, would support whoever wins the vote.

“We are very careful of making sure that whatever we do and whatever we say, that we are not causing a possibility of a split,” she said. “A split is not something that we are looking into, which is why we have this buy-in for unity.”

Court Action Buoys Ramaphosa's Bid to Lead South Africa's ANC

The first thing Ramaphosa, one of the richest black South Africans, should do if he wins is to meet with investors to restore confidence in a moribund economy, Sisulu said.

“It’s such a crucial conference that we have to look beyond our own individual feelings about the outcome and make sure that we come out of it to restore confidence in South Africa,” Sisulu said. “Our hope is to prove to people who might have lost confidence in us, that actually they were wrong.”

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.