South African President Jacob Zuma on Wednesday sought to calm an increasingly fractious battle to succeed him that is threatening to split the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party.
Zuma, who has been hit by corruption scandals and the country’s poor economic performance, will step down as ANC party head in December and as national president ahead of the 2019 election.
The next ANC chief should be on track to win the general election and become South African president, but the party has recently suffered a sharp decline in popularity.
Zuma, giving his closing address at an ANC policy conference in Soweto outside Johannesburg, called for the party to drop its “winner takes all” attitude to the divisive leadership race.
“I believe we must get rid of factions. The factions have become so deep,” he said.
“We have almost have a situation where it looks like two organisations exist in one. We can’t have that.
“Do we want an ANC that is perpetually destabilised, fighting among itself?”
The two leading runners are Zuma’s ex-wife, former African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, a wealthy former businessman.
Zuma, who is seen as supporting Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign, called for the ANC to have two party deputy presidents to broaden its top leadership team.
“There is consensus that our movement can no longer afford to totally reject leaders who were preferred by a significant number of members to lead,” he said.
Critics accuse Zuma, 75, of fuelling factionalism and corruption since he came to power in 2009, and of being in the sway of the Gupta business family, allegedly granting them lucrative government contracts.
He will face a vote of no confidence in parliament on August 8, though he is likely to survive due to the large ANC majority in the house.
Opposition parties are pushing for the vote to be held in secret, hoping to encourage ANC lawmakers to vote him out of office.
Both Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa were on stage for Zuma’s speech, which was greeted with lukewarm applause from delegates.
The clash between the two camps could provoke further political instability in South Africa, which last month slipped into recession and also is suffering record unemployment.
The opposition Democratic Alliance party made gains in the 2016 local elections and hopes to benefit from the ANC’s woes in the 2019 vote.
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