Cloud Hangs Over African National Congress Election After Disqualifications -- Updates

12/17/17 07:33 PM EST
By Gabriele Steinhauser 

SOWETO, South Africa -- Concerns over vote rigging and other irregularities hung over the ruling African National Congress as it prepared to elect a new party leader to succeed scandal-plagued President Jacob Zuma and chart the future course of Africa's most-developed economy.

The ANC on Sunday said it disqualified nearly 500 delegates from voting at its leadership conference because their credentials couldn't be verified or had been struck down by courts. The move confirmed concerns among officials and analysts that factions backing opposing candidates to take the helm of the party that has ruled South Africa since 1994 had been trying to get their own supporters into the leadership conference.

The remaining 4,776 delegates were set to start casting ballots for a new leadership Monday morning. The removal of the unverified candidates means the voting process won't be compromised, said Jessie Duarte, the ANC's deputy secretary-general.

The ANC has won an absolute majority in all national elections since the end of apartheid, and although opposition parties have been making inroads in recent years, the new party leader is likely to become South Africa's next president in 2019.

The two candidates -- Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Mr. Zuma's ex-wife and a former chairperson of the African Union, and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa -- have campaigned on starkly different solutions for a country that is suffering weak growth, high unemployment and escalating corruption allegations.

Ms. Dlamini-Zuma has echoed her ex-husband's attacks on "white monopoly capitalism" and promised "radical economic transformation" for South Africa, where the white minority still controls much of the wealth. Mr. Ramaphosa, meanwhile, has called for a commission of inquiry into allegations that Mr. Zuma has allowed the controversial Gupta family to wield undue influence over the government and steal millions of dollars from state-owned companies. Mr. Zuma and the Guptas have denied wrongdoing.

Provinces that had backed Ms. Dlamini-Zuma as party leader saw more of their delegates disqualified than those that had come out in favor of Mr. Ramaphosa. But analysts and ANC officials said it was too early to call a victory for either Mr. Ramaphosa, a firebrand-union-leader-turned-multimillionaire, or Ms. Dlamini-Zuma, a medical doctor who has been a minister under all of South Africa's postapartheid presidents.

"There is still a lot of scope for dirty tricks [such as] buying of votes, intimidation, not getting delegates to the voting booth," said Darias Jonker, Africa director at consultancy Eurasia Group.

While delegates argued about the new leadership behind closed doors, supporters gathered outside the conference venue discussed the merits of the two main candidates.

"Cyril Ramaphosa will take us back to apartheid. He protects white monopoly capital," said Timtswaio Baloyi, a 54-year-old local councilor from the northeastern Limpopo province.

Sitting beside her -- flanked by souvenir shops selling black-green-and-yellow T-shirts, dresses, shoes, hats and scarves -- Dennis Kgatitsoe, a 58-year-old businessman from the North West province, argued that Mr. Ramaphosa was the ANC's best bet to continue ruling the country.

"We lost in Johannesburg. We lost in Pretoria," he said, referring to 2016 local elections in which the party lost control of some of South Africa's largest cities. "We must not lose leadership nationally."

A few yards away, with songs cheering Mr. Ramaphosa blaring from a speaker, 30-year-old Lesiba Seshoka said he was worried that the voting process could still descend into chaos.

"Zuma has more to lose here. So he will not just allow Cyril to take it, " he said. "I'm afraid [the conference] might collapse if he realizes he's losing."

Nthabiseng Gamede contributed to this article.

Write to Gabriele Steinhauser at gabriele.steinhauser@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 17, 2017 19:33 ET (00:33 GMT)

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