'Zuma is likely to win this presidency'

Prominent businessman Tokyo Sexwale, seen as a possible African National Congress (ANC) presidential candidate, said on Wednesday Jacob Zuma was likely to win the contest to lead the ruling party.

He also denied in a radio interview media reports that he had offered to fund Zuma’s campaign.

“The way I see it, Jacob Zuma may come out the winner,” he told SAfm.

“When you look at the numbers, when you look at the trend, that’s why we talk about indications, the trend is that Jacob Zuma is likely to win this presidency.”

Sexwale did not rule himself out of the campaign but acknowledged that Zuma was significantly ahead.

“I will consider whether I want to make myself available,” he said, adding it was not too late to compete.

ANC deputy president Zuma is leading incumbent party and national President Thabo Mbeki ahead of the ANC conference in Polokwane next month that will choose new leaders.

In voting this weekend, Zuma won nominations from five of nine provinces, as well as support from the ANC Youth League and the Women’s League, dealing a major blow to Mbeki’s hopes to win a third term as party leader.

Traditionally the ANC president would also become the national president in elections scheduled for 2009 because of the party’s grip on South African politics.

But this year’s race pits Zuma against Mbeki, who cannot by law run for re-election as national president. Analysts say Mbeki is fighting to stay on as party leader to remain a force in politics and have a hand in selecting his successor.

Sexwale, a former politician turned businessman, is seen as a possible compromise candidate in a race that has plunged the ANC into some of the deepest divisions in its history.

Zuma was fired by Mbeki as national deputy president in 2005 after being linked to allegations of corruption, and may still be recharged.

He has strong backing from the country’s trade unions and communist party, raising concerns among investors that he will divert away from Mbeki’s market friendly economic policies.

But Sexwale said he had confidence in Zuma’s ability to lead the country.

“I have no doubt about his leadership, I never questioned that. He was the deputy president of the country,” Sexwale said.

Still in the race

Meanwhile, Mbeki said on Tuesday he was still in the race to lead the ANC.

“If there are members of the ANC who nominate me for whatever position ... I have got to respect that,” he told the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).

“When the ANC elections commission comes and says ‘you have been nominated for president, are you available?’ I will respect that, I will say, ‘Yes, of course I am available,’” Mbeki said.

‘No impact on government’

Critics who back Zuma say a majority of the country’s black population have not benefited from Mbeki’s rule and that his policies have favoured big business.

Political analyst Susan Booysen said the decision by most ANC branches to nominate Zuma for party president may have marked a turning point for the party which led the struggle against apartheid.

“It was also a kind of decision about self renewal. I think ... it was more than just electing Jacob Zuma. It was a decision that said ‘We want the ANC to be a bit different from what it has become over the last decade’,” she said.

Mbeki, who has been described as a shrewd strategist, may be scrambling to break Zuma’s momentum in the hope that senior party delegates will back him in a secret ballot at the last minute, analysts say.

Mbeki said in an interview with the SABC the decision by most ANC branches to back Zuma would not weaken the government as he serves out his term as South African president until 2009.

“It certainly wouldn’t have any impact ... in terms of the continued pursuit of the policy positions of the ANC,” he said.

“I know for a fact that the masses of our people in the country continue to say ‘our hope is the ANC’ despite all the problems we have whether it’s not enough houses and water and jobs and all of this.” - Reuters



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