The two contenders are the current ANC head and South Africa’s President, Thabo Mbeki, and the party’s deputy leader, Jacob Zuma. Despite corruption charges, Mr. Zuma looks to be the favourite to win, the BBC’s Peter Biles says. The choice of leader could determine who becomes South Africa’s president after Mr Mbeki steps down in 2009.
Delegates gathering for a five-day ANC congress in Polokwane, Limpopo, will see the party’s first leadership contest in 58 years. The campaign has been an acrimonious and bruising affair, our correspondent says. Mr. Mbeki has already served two terms and cannot lead the country again.
But correspondents say if he were to remain ANC leader he would be well placed to decide who succeeds him as national leader. Meanwhile, Mr. Zuma, a former vice president of South Africa, has conducted a vigorous campaign to wrestle the leadership crown. He has also been warding off allegations of corruption and last year was acquitted of rape charges. If he wins, Mr. Zuma will be in line to become ANC candidate for the country’s presidential polls in two years’ time.
On Friday, the former Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu, urged the ANC to reject Mr. Zuma. Archbishop Tutu, one of South Africa’s most powerful moral voices, said delegates should “not choose someone of whom most of us would be ashamed”.
“We’re very worried that this leader had relations with a woman who regarded him as a parent,” he told South Africa’s Mail & Guardian newspaper.
This was an apparent reference to the woman Mr. Zuma was acquitted of raping. She was a family friend less than half his age with whom he had unprotected sex while being aware she was HIV-positive. Mr. Zuma responded by saying it was “the business of the leaders of the Church… [to] pray for people, not condemn them”. Once close allies, he and Mr. Mbeki publicly fell out in 2005 when Mr. Zuma was sacked as deputy president over corruption allegations. The case against Mr. Zuma was thrown out by a judge last year but he could still face charges in connection with a multi-million dollar arms deal.