South Africa: Ramaphosa Roils Succession

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[Africa News Update]

South Africa’s presidential succession race is heating up. Now Tambo region in the Eastern Cape is backing billionaire businessman Cyril Ramaphosa to succeed incumbent President Thambo Mbeki ahead of the 2009 polls.

Ramaphosa, the ANC's chief negotiator in the talks which led to the end of apartheid, is a compromise candidate, key to ending the bruising leadership battle between Mbeki and the embattled ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma.

"We have been lobbying Ramaphosa, I must admit," Mlamli Siyakholwa, regional secretary of the OR Tambo district in the Eastern Cape tells the media.

"We feel that with the serious contestation of KwaZulu-Natal strongly in support of Zuma and Eastern Cape strongly in support of Mbeki, the ANC will suffer if either of these two comrades wins."

However, Ramaphosa said he had no interest in joining the succession race.

"As I have said in the past, I have no interest in standing for this position. Like all ANC members, I am confident this matter will be clarified in accordance with the policies, organizational culture and processes of the ANC," he says.

At present the ANC leadership race is a three-way race between Mbeki, Zuma and mining magnate and former Gauteng premier Tokyo Sexwale, who also has a strong following in the Eastern Cape. While Mbeki could still head the party, he wouldn’t be eligible for the country’s presidency.

The ANC tradition does not allow leadership hopefuls to campaign for the ANC top job and candidates can only be proposed by branches ahead of the December conference. Political analysts say Ramaphosa, who has remained tight lipped about his ambitions, would be the favorite were he to agree to enter the fray. In terms of the constitution, Mbeki will have to stand down as head of state in 2009 after serving two terms. However, he can run again for the ANC party president post.

Political analysts in Zimbabwe see the ANC leadership race differently.

They say the white press in South Africa is positioning rich Blacks to lead the ANC as a strategy of protecting its business interests in a country where the majority of Blacks are still to have a major share of the economy.

"This ANC district demands that Ramaphosa stands, to loud echoes from big businesses to which Ramaphosa got wedded and served as an intern soon after 1994," wrote one political commentator in the Zimbabwe Herald. "Politics in South Africa can be quite cynical: people on polar opposites of the welfare and material pendulum, can make each other do things that suggest they live in intimacy and solidarity, nay, are sharers of a destiny. I mean it is amazing that captains of Sanlam can get a district of the ANC in Johannesburg moving for Ramaphosa.” Sanlam is a big South African company.

The white-dominated South African press is favoring Black business liberals and not radicals like Zuma in the ANC succession race. The radicals are a threat to white business interest.

Europe and America also feel the same and have floated Ramaphosa and Tokyo Sexwale in the mainstream media to sell these two political weights to the world and to Black Africa.

Tsiko is The Black Star News’s Southern Africa correspondent based in Harare.


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