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Battered Zuma set to survive ANC vote

South African President Jacob Zuma looks almost certain to keep his job as ANC party leader at a key meeting next week, but his re-election may yet spell trouble for the storied organisation.

With less than two weeks until the African National Congress opens its elective conference in the central region of Mangaung, the tea leaves look promising for comrade Zuma.

All the party’s nine regions have indicated their preference for who should lead the ANC and Zuma has been endorsed by six. His deputy and potential rival Kgalema Motlanthe won backing in the other three.

The numbers suggest the majority of the 4,500 delegates to the conference, which kicks off December 16, will allow Zuma to remain head of the party and by extension leader of South Africa for the next five years.

But all is not well within the 100-year-old revolutionary movement once led by anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, analysts say.

Fissures within the ANC at its last conference in 2007 still rankle. Then Zuma was victorious in ousting president Thabo Mbeki, but five years on he is scandal-tarnished and increasingly unpopular.

Zuma “will win at Mangaung but he remains a fragile political leader,” said independent analyst Daniel Silke, predicting his victory could seriously damage the ANC’s national standings.

Recently Zuma has appeared to lurch from one crisis to another, pilloried for a $28-million renovation of his homestead, paid for by taxpayers, and his handling of deadly labour unrest.

In the latest scandal, the Mail and Guardian newspaper on Friday revealed Zuma needed payments totalling almost a million dollars from political allies to repair his tattered finances.

“There will be people in the party who would wish that the party doesn’t do well so that Zuma and camp can learn a lesson,” said Prince Mashele of the Centre for Politics and Research.

“The party will lack energy going to the 2014 election. The party won’t do well in the 2014 election, but will retain its majority, ” he said, while adding that “it’s going to be a reduced majority.”

Zuma’s faction has listed respected former trade unionist and now businessman Cyril Ramaphosa as his running mate in a bid “to inject a measure of credibility into its camp because they know that they suffer a huge credibility deficit,” said Mashele.

By roping in Ramaphosa, the ANC is trying “to legitimise itself, to coat itself in a modicum of respectability, to staunch the smell of . . . scandals,” said columnist and TV political presenter Justice Malala.

“So Jacob Zuma may well secure his second term at Mangaung, but this can still change in the run-up to the 2014 general elections,” said Silke.

Observers believe the party, renowned for waging the tough battle to end apartheid in South Africa, will see its support slump to below 60 percent in the national elections due in 2014.

“The reason will be Zuma,” said Malala in an article in The Times. With the scandals hanging over his head and his general ineffectiveness in running the government, “he would be unelectable anywhere else in the world.”

Those looking for signs of things to come point to local by-elections on Wednesday, which saw the ANC lose control of a ward in Zuma’s home municipality of Nkandla where his controversial homestead is located.