Meet the president: these are the top contenders for the ANC crown

13 December 2017 - 08:55 By Reuters and TimesLIVE
Zweli Mkhize, Cyril Ramaphosa, President Jacob Zuma, Mathews Phosa, Jeff Radebe, Lindiwe Sisulu, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and Baleka Mbete.
Zweli Mkhize, Cyril Ramaphosa, President Jacob Zuma, Mathews Phosa, Jeff Radebe, Lindiwe Sisulu, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and Baleka Mbete.
Image: Facebook/MyAnc

The African National Congress (ANC) is set to elect a new party leader to succeed President Jacob Zuma at a conference starting on Saturday.

The winner will be favourite to become president of the country after a 2019 national election. Below are the main ANC leadership hopefuls. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa are the two front runners.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Image: Jackie Clausen


The former minister and chairwoman of the African Union Commission has served in the cabinets of every South African president in the post-apartheid era. Dlamini-Zuma was married to Zuma for over a decade and has four children with him. Dlamini-Zuma has echoed the president's calls for "radical economic transformation".

She is backed by the ANC’s influential women’s and youth leagues, as well as by Zuma and provincial party leaders close to him. If she should win, it raises the odds that Zuma will serve out his second term. 

A number of political analysts believe that the odds of the ANC splitting would be high if Dlamini-Zuma win the top job. A recent poll also predicted that the ANC is likely to lose its parliamentary majority if this happens.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Image: Elizabeth Sejake


The deputy president and former trade union leader is one of South Africa’s richest people.

Ramaphosa played an important role in the negotiations to end apartheid and in the drafting of the Constitution and former president Nelson Mandela wanted Ramaphosa to be his heir but was pressured into picking Thabo Mbeki instead. Ramaphosa has vowed to fight corruption and revitalise an economy, and has endorsed Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor as his running mate.

He is supported by a diverse group of labour unions, communists and ANC members disillusioned with the current president. Should he win Ramaphosa could try consolidate his grip on power by orchestrating Zuma’s removal as the nation’s president before his second term ends in 2019.

Zweli Mkhize.
Zweli Mkhize.
Image: Simphiwe Nkwali/Sowetan


The ANC’s treasurer general is one of the ruling party’s top six senior leaders.
A medical doctor by training, Mkhize also served as a party boss in the KwaZulu-Natal province, from where Zuma and Dlamini-Zuma hail.

Some analysts see Mkhize as a compromise candidate for ANC leader who could reconcile the opposing factions supporting Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa.

Lindiwe Sisulu. File photo.
Lindiwe Sisulu. File photo.
Image: Trevor Samson


The human settlements minister is the daughter of anti-apartheid activist Walter Sisulu, a close friend of Nelson Mandela.

Sisulu says Ramaphosa approached her to be his running mate but she turned down the offer. However, there is talk that Ramaphosa's endorsement of Pandor as his running mate has brought Sisulu back to the negotiating table.

Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe. File photo
Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe. File photo


The minister in the presidency has also held senior cabinet positions including public enterprises minister.

He served in underground structures of the ANC during white minority rule and was imprisoned on Robben Island, where the apartheid government kept political prisoners.

Mathews Phosa.
Mathews Phosa.
Image: Gallo Images


The former premier of the Mpumalanga province has also worked as the ANC’s treasurer general.

Phosa has abandoned his bid to have the High Court hear an urgent application around alleged irregularities in the nominations process in Mpumalanga. The ANC branch did not single out their preferred candidate for the elections but had instead nominated "unity". The ANC has agreed to form a task team to look into his concerns.

Mpumalanga’s current premier, David Mabuza, is viewed by some as a kingmaker in the ANC race.

Speaker Baleka Mbete
Speaker Baleka Mbete
Image: AFP


The speaker of Parliament also briefly served as deputy president. She has said she has held talks with other leadership hopefuls to discuss the possibility of working together. She has frequently called for unity and said the result of the conference should not be a split in the ANC, or factions being out to "kill each other".

So how will the voting work? Watch our explainer video:

South Africa’s ruling party, the ANC, will elect its next leader in December this year at its 54th national conference in Gauteng. TimesLIVE explains how the party elects its president.