Clean sweep for Zuma

2007-12-19 00:00

Jacob Zuma is the new president of the African National Congress. The nail-biting wait for the end of one of the most bitterly contested leadership battles and the most anticipated event in South Africa’s recent history is finally over.

Although delegates burst into song and there was the beating of drums and the sound of whistles and the odd vuvuzele, there was an amazing measure of discipline among delegates, who sat when told to do so and waited for the next announcement.

Similarly, ANC leadership in a brave show of unity saw the losing faction congratulate the winners in each of the top six positions.

There were dramatic moments — the embrace and passing on of the symbolic leadership baton from Mbeki to Zuma and when the new leader was hugged and congratulated by his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. She was the losing candidate for the post of deputy president, won by current secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe.

The voting echoed provincial polls, which indicated that Zuma was a front-runner in the succession race. In the end, he beat Mbeki by 824 votes. This set the trend for the top six positions, which were all won by roughly the same margin.

A KwaZulu-Natal delegate said the Zuma faction ran organised election campaigns. “The campaign managers keep in constant contact with us and made sure we all went and voted. There was a lot at stake here and none of us wanted to spoil Zuma’s chance of becoming president,” he said.

He said some of the delegates held a vigil on Monday night. They said that the top leadership was not going to flaunt their win. This proved true last night as the winning six sat in restrained dignity on the stage. Zuma tried to keep a straight face, but broke into a broad smile every now and then at comments from photographers.

In the months building up to the conference, commentators have described this event as a watershed election; a bruising battle for the soul of the ANC and a contest between a populist and an aloof intellectual.

Many believe the ANC has been torn apart by the acrimonious rivalry in a succession battle marked by suspicion and allegations of dirty tricks.

A source said that while the leadership will do their best to present a united front, there are deep-seated concerns about the unity of the party and the need for serious introspection on building unity.

Zuma, who often describes himself as “just a boy from Nkandla” — playing on his lack of education and rural roots, is now in line to become president of the country in 2009, barring if he is guilty in a looming corruption trial.

Many in his support base dismiss his corruption charges and his rape trial as victimisation by his arch rival, Mbeki.

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