South Africa’s ruling party elected a close ally of President Cyril Ramaphosa as its chairman in a key region, further bolstering his prospects of winning a second term.
Oscar Mabuyane secured the top African National Congress post in the Eastern Cape province, where he serves as premier, at a conference on Monday. He won 812 of the votes cast by party delegates, while his main rival Babalo Madikizela secured 662. The region has the third-biggest contingent of ANC members of the nine provinces after KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.
Ramaphosa, 69, has led the ANC since late 2017 and is widely expected to seek re-election in December, ensuring that he’ll be the party’s presidential candidate in a national vote scheduled for 2024. Mabuyane has publicly stated that he wants Ramaphosa to retain his post, as have the ANC chairs in the Northern Cape, Mpumalanga and Limpopo — although that’s no guarantee that other delegates from their provinces will follow suit.
Ramaphosa’s possible challengers include Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and Zweli Mkhize, who quit as health minister last year after being implicated in a tender scandal. While Madikizela also told local media that he backs the incumbent, some of his allies are seen as close to Mkhize.
The boost for Ramaphosa comes days after the ANC’s national executive committee decided to amend its rules to bar members facing criminal charges from seeking election to party posts. One official who has been charged with two murders and another who is facing graft charges recently won senior positions in the ANC’s regional structures.
A change will bolster Ramaphosa’s efforts to clean up the ANC, whose reputation took a hammering during his predecessor Jacob Zuma’s scandal-marred rule. It could also sideline some of his political rivals, including the ANC’s suspended Secretary-General Ace Magashule, who is facing trial on corruption charges.