Who is Jacob Zuma up against?

It is exactly six months before 5 600 delegates descend on Polokwane in Limpopo for the ANC’s 52nd national conference, when the election of South Africa’s future president lies in the hands of the 4 000 delegates with voting rights.

They will represent the ANC’s 2 000 branches, the women’s league and the youth league.

Apart from known candidates President Thabo Mbeki and ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma, four other ANC leaders have emerged as presidential possibilities.

We assesses their chances using four criteria: popular base, economic policy, relations with the tripartite alliance and personal integrity.

NKOSAZANA DLAMINI-ZUMA (58, divorced, four daughters)

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has been President Thabo Mbeki’s wingwoman in pursuing his first love: foreign relations.

After Mbeki fired Jacob Zuma as state deputy president in 2004, Dlamini-Zuma was his first choice as a replacement. But she declined his request on the basis that Zuma was her former husband.
This won her kudos in the ANC, but the alliance partners still perceive her to be too close to Mbeki.

She is notoriously abrasive and lacks interpersonal skills. Several ANC members told the Mail & Guardian that the only way she would be elected president was if Mbeki was re-elected for a third term as ANC president and appointed her as his replacement in 2009.

Popular base

At the ANC’s last national conference, in Stellenbosch in 2002, Dlamini-Zuma won the most votes after Finance Minister Trevor Manuel and businessman Cyril Ramaphosa in the national executive committee elections. This was up from 12th position at the 1997 conference and 60th position in 1994.

Her popularity in 2002 was attributed largely to her high-profile legal fight with pharmaceutical companies over accessible and affordable medicines for the poor. Her mass support is strongest among women in KwaZulu-Natal.

But two senior ANC leaders told the M&G that her inability to unify and her “lack of interpersonal skills” counted strongly against her. “She works with people she’s comfortable with. As a president you have to be willing to work with people you don’t like,” said a former foreign affairs official.

Economic policy

Dlamini-Zuma lacks economic flair, but has a scholarly grasp of economics and a largely non-interventionist attitude towards the fiscus.

Relations with the tripartite alliance

As health minister Dlamini-Zuma was famous for “putting people first”. She introduced compulsory community service for medical students, partly to service rural areas, and her fight against HIV and Aids was hailed by Cosatu.

But “she has no record to show” of direct participation with the alliance partners, said a Cosatu leader, who added that she would nonetheless not be their last choice because “she’s accessible, quite robust and she fights”.

Personal integrity

As health minister Dlamini-Zuma had to take political responsibility for the 1995 controversy over Sarafina II, a musical about Aids, into which her department pumped millions of rand and which was mired in allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

TOKYO SEXWALE (54, married, two children)

Sexwale has left nothing to the imagination: he is the only presidential hopeful to have declared his willingness to run for the position, which may thwart his chances.

He is firmly on the campaign trail. In the week he announced he was being lobbied for the presidency he was invited to address an ANC fundraising dinner in the Chris Hani region in the Eastern Cape, a historically pro-Zuma region.

Last week he addressed the Arab-African Initiative for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals in Cairo. And on Thursday he delivered a lecture at Wits University on leadership.

Popular base

Sexwale insists he has not lost touch with the ANC’s mass base, but ANC members told the M&G this week that his support is in the wrong places. “Black and white capital and foreign investors aren’t going to be on the floor in Polokwane,” a provincial secretary said.

Economic policy

There will be no surprises in Sexwale’s economic blueprint. He will rely heavily on the private sector to generate growth, but he has equally argued in favour of maintaining the social welfare components of the national budget.

Relations with the tripartite alliance

Cosatu and the SACP have scoffed at Sexwale’s presidential ambitions and have disregarded him.

One Cosatu leader described him as “a white man painted in a black skin”, referring to his perceived lack of empathy with the poor.

Personal integrity

In 2004 it was alleged that Sexwale’s company, Mvelaphanda, had been willing to pay bribes to Iraqi officials to procure oil. Sexwale denied the allegations and his involvement was never proved.


A section of senior ANC members believes Lekota is the only leader who would unify the ANC after the divisions caused by the succession battle: “He has the familial touch that has been Mbeki’s weakness,” said a senior ANC member close to Mbeki. But Cosatu and the SACP feel betrayed by him. They supported his election as ANC national chairperson in 1997 because of his reputation as a grass-roots activist, but “he has since moved away from us”, said a Cosatu leader.

Popular base

Like Motlanthe, Lekota naturally commands respect among the ANC membership because he is third in command in the party.

His history as one of the first leaders of the United Democratic Front earned him the reputation as a trench fighter. But there is a generally held perception that he has lost his shine—last year he was told to “voertsek” and had stones hurled at him by Khutsong residents when he was mediating in the cross-border municipality dispute.

In 1994 he was voted to 18th place out of 60 on the NEC.

Economic policy

Lekota is probably more famous for his brawn than his brains, but he is unlikely to tamper with the country’s macroeconomic framework.

One ANC member said: “He’s a former activist who would become another bureaucrat.”

His reputation as a manager is mixed. In 1996 the national ANC leadership removed him as Free State premier after he hired and fired provincial ministers without consulting Luthuli House. But many people admire his “bull-in-a-china-shop approach” to rooting out mismanagement.

Relations with the tripartite alliance

A perception that Lekota has been “co-opted” by Mbeki has undermined his reputation among the other alliance partners. He is seen also as “antagonistic and unreliable”, said a Cosatu leader. An SACP leader said: “No one really takes him seriously any more, but I must say the difference between him and the chief [Mbeki] is he picks up a phone and talks.”

Personal integrity

In 2003 Lekota faced disciplinary action in the ANC after he failed to declare some of his business interests. He was forced to apologise publicly.

KGALEMA MOTLANTHE (58, unmarried, three children)

Until about a year ago Motlanthe was the natural compromise candidate for both Mbeki and Zuma.

He shares Mbeki’s (generally misunderstood) outlook on HIV and Aids, particularly on drug safety and the role of racism and poverty in developing treatment regimes tailored to Africa. Motlanthe endorses Mbeki’s view that democratic change in Zimbabwe must be homegrown, not externally imposed.

His trade-union background—he was general secretary of Cosatu’s biggest affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers, during the mid-1990s—and his perceived fairness in dealing with Zuma have endeared him to the ANC’s left tripartite alliance partners.

But Motlanthe suffered heavy political damage among Mbeki supporters over the “hoax” email saga last year when his appointment of an ANC-led task team to investigate the origins of the email lent credibility to their authenticity. Since then he has lost his image of being “above the fray” and Zuma supporters have embraced him as their compromise candidate.

Popular base

As secretary general of the ANC, Motlanthe commands natural loyalty among the ruling party’s 440 000 members. However, the extent to which this will translate into electoral support will depend partly on Cosatu’s success in “flooding the ranks” of the ANC—its declared battle plan ahead of the December conference. Motlanthe is measured—he’s not a populist—and he is respected generally in the party for his take-no-prisoners approach.

Economic policy

As general secretary of the NUM, Motlanthe was extremely critical of both Gear and the Reconstruction and Development Programme. In 1996 he described Gear as nothing more than “a message to foreign investors that South Africa was an attractive investment outlet to them”. As ANC secretary general he held on to the view that the programmes were quick-fix solutions rather than “a process”.

Motlanthe has a visionary grasp of transformative economics. Long before black economic empowerment became policy he recognised the need to create “a black capitalist class” and pioneered trade union investment companies. He was one of the earliest proponents of the new mining legislation that vests mineral rights in the state.

Relations with the tripartite alliance

In 1997 Motlanthe said the tripartite alliance would survive on the basis that Cosatu’s membership was “fed and led and weaned [by the ANC] on ideas that work for working people”. Ten years later Cosatu’s overriding grievance is its belief that the ANC no longer represents the working class. With Zuma, Cosatu sees Motlanthe as the redeemer of the working class and a leader who would reopen communication channels with the alliance partners. (Mbeki has not had a meeting with Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and has had only one meeting with SACP secretary general Blade Nzimande.)

Personal integrity

Last year Motlanthe was found to have a stake in a company called Pamodzi, to which the state’s Land Bank had loaned R800-million­ to fund a black economic empowerment deal. Motlanthe was disclosed as being tied to Imvume boss Sandi Majali in the ANC’s party funding scandal, Oilgate.

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