Who to Watch in South Africa’s Ruling Party Leadership Race

(Bloomberg) -- South Africa’s governing party on Tuesday announced the names of 16 officials who’ve been nominated for leadership positions ahead of its elective conference in Johannesburg next month, with clear frontrunners emerging for all of the top six posts.

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The gathering comes at a difficult time for the 110-year-old African National Congress -- it’s battling to rebuild support among an electorate that was alienated by Jacob Zuma’s scandal-marred presidency, which ended in 2018. Its support dipped below 50% for the first time ever in a municipal vote last year and it risks losing its national majority in 2024 elections.

Here are the leaders who look set to oversee the party for the next five years:

President: Cyril Ramaphosa

The 70-year-old lawyer and former labor-union leader succeeded Zuma as ANC head in December 2017 and as the nation’s president two months later, after campaigning on an anti-corruption ticket. He’s made some headway in tackling graft, but plans to revive an ailing economy have been hamstrung by the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing power shortages. His critics accuse him of indecisiveness and political expediency for retaining tainted or under-performing appointees in his executive. An investigation is under way into allegations that he sought to cover up the theft of foreign currency from his game farm, and he’ll have to resign from his post if he’s prosecuted. He denies wrongdoing. Ramaphosa secured 2,037 nominations for the ANC’s top job, more than double the total garnered by Zweli Mkhize, a former health minister.

Read more: Crisis in South Africa Shakes Up Politics Before Party Vote

Deputy President: Paul Mashatile

A former premier of Gauteng and the ANC’s current treasurer-general, the 61-year-old Mashatile appears to be a shoo-in to become the party’s deputy leader. He became the ANC’s acting secretary-general after Ace Magashule was suspended after being charged with graft, and then assumed the duties of its deputy secretary-general after Jessie Duarte fell ill and later died -- giving him a visibility that has bolstered his campaign. Mashatile was one of Zuma’s staunchest critics, and blamed him for the ANC losing outright control in Gauteng’s three urban centers of Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane. He secured 1,791 nominations for the No. 2 post, compared to 427 for Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola, his closest rival.

Read more: Ruling Party Has Changing of Guard in South Africa Economic Hub

Chairman: Stan Mathabatha

The premier of the northern Limpopo province, Mathabatha, 65, has publicly endorsed Ramaphosa for a second term. South Africa’s former ambassador to Ukraine, Mathabatha was criticized for appointing two former mayors who’ve been implicated in corruption to his provincial cabinet -- a move that appeared to have been directed at consolidating his control. He got 1,492 nominations for the post of chairman, while Gwede Mantashe, the incumbent who also serves as mineral resources and energy minister, got 979.

Read more: South Africa’s Ramaphosa Edges Closer to Re-Election as ANC Head

Deputy Secretary-General: Nomvula Mokonyane

Mokonyane, 59, succeeded Mashatile as premier of Gauteng in May 2009 and held the position for five years. She went on to serve as national water and sanitation minister for four years, communications minister for nine months and environment minister for six months. She lost the latter post after testimony given to a judicial inquiry into graft implicated her in taking bribes. She denied any wrongdoing. She secured 1,779 nominations for the deputy secretary-general post, while Febe Potgieter-Gqubule, a former deputy chief of staff at the African Union Commission, got 905.

Read more: Ramaphosa Unveils First Step in South Africa Cabinet Cleanup

Treasurer-General: Bejani Chauke

Chauke helped manage Ramaphosa’s campaign to win control of the ANC in 2017 and was appointed as his political adviser the following year. Arthur Fraser, South Africa’s former chief spy, alleged that Chauke may have helped bring the foreign currency that was stolen from Ramaphosa’s farm in 2020 into the country. Chauke denied any wrongdoing and said the scandal had been orchestrated in an attempt to unseat Ramaphosa. Chauke got 552 nominations for the treasurer post and ANC spokesman Pule Mabe, his nearest rival, 428.

--With assistance from Gina Turner.

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