Zuma still wields clout among grassroots ANC members despite his graft-tainted image
Zuma still wields clout among grassroots ANC members despite his graft-tainted image AFP / Rajesh JANTILAL

Boosting his chances of securing yet another five-year term as South Africa's President, a graft-tainted Cyril Ramaphosa is leading with the most votes to head the African National Congress (ANC) -- Africa's oldest liberation movement.

Ahead of the national conference on Dec. 16, the ANC on Nov. 22 released the final list of nominees for its top positions. Ramaphosa, who replaced Jacob Zuma, who is cooling his feet in jail over corruption charges, got 2,037 votes from 3,543 branches out of a total 3,982.

Whoever heads the African National Congress (ANC) will become the state president if it secures a majority in the general elections, slated for 2024.

According to the ANC, Ramaphosa beat Zweli Mkhize, a former health minister who quit over graft charges linked to departmental work during the pandemic.

For the ANC, Ramaphosa, a businessman-turned-politician, is seen as the safe bet to improve its electoral chances.

The 70-year-old tycoon is facing a parliamentary inquiry on allegations of theft of millions of dollars reportedly hidden at his ranch.

Despite his authority, morally and politically weakened, Ramaphosa is expected to win both the party post and that of the president as there are few other candidates who can cobble together a successful coalition.

According to the complaint, filed by former South African intelligence chief Arthur Fraser in June, burglars broke into Ramaphosa's farmhouse in Phala Phala, in the country's northeast, in February 2020 and found large sums of liquid money.

Cyril Ramaphosa is accused of concealing the robbery and the money from the tax authorities. He is also accused of bribing the robbers to keep quiet. The scandal is known as the farmgate in the country.

An independent parliamentary panel is investigating the graft charges against Ramaphosa and will submit the report on Dec. 6. An impeachment is unlikely as the ANC, headed by Ramaphosa, enjoys more than two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly.

Currently, he is touring the UK with a mega energy transition plan, which is funded by the British government.

His predecessor Jacob Zuma, who is facing a 15-month jail term for refusing to testify in a government inquiry into a corruption case, is back in jail after the court overturned his medical parole. The Supreme Court said that his release was unlawful.

The 80-year-old former leader also faces a separate corruption case connected to an arms deal dating back over two decades.

Zuma, a prominent figure in the ANC's fight against apartheid, became South Africa's president in 2009 and quit office in 2018 following mounting corruption charges.

In June this year, Zuma's son's business partners, Atul and Rajesh Gupta, were arrested under Interpol's orders for unlawfully receiving $6.5 billion in public funds.

The rise of the ANC, founded in 1912 to advocate for Black South Africans' rights, was seen as a new era in a nation with a troubled history. The ANC is still in power but its reputation has suffered a beating from its original image of apartheid-fighting revolutionaries.

Unemployment in the second largest economy in Africa is estimated at 35 percent and violent crimes have increased, while Ramaphosa struggled to purge the ANC of the graft to give much-needed changes to bolster the nation's flagging economy.

An energy crisis has amplified economic strain and South Africans are living 12 hours a day without power. Crime has increased with robberies, rape and murder taking place in broad daylight. The World Bank has said that South Africa is the most economically unequal nation in the world.

The ANC has become synonymous with corruption and ineptitude, with its top leadership marred in scandals.

But change is on the cards. For the first time in 28 years, the ANC is losing most of the polls. Other parties like the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) are gaining ground.

The overwhelming endorsement of Ramaphosa as the ANC head is an indication that the party is incapable of renewing itself despite the need for change.