South Africa is troubled by social inequality, a stuttering economy and labor unrest. It is against this background that President Jacob Zuma has been re-elected leader of the ruling ANC.
"Let us reduce the distance between leadership and members," said Jacob Zuma, addressing more 4,000 delegates at the ANC Elective Conference in Mangaung. It is a truly herculean task for which the South African President and ANC leader now has a new mandate. 2,978 delegates voted in favor of retaining him at the helm of the party, his deputy and only challenger Kgalema Motlanthe garnered just 991 votes.
In spite of the in-fighting and attempts to unseat him, Zuma's re-election as party chairman does not come as a surprise. A majority of local ANC branches and the powerful women and youth associations had already pledged their support for him.
Yet the ANC suffers from deep divisions as shown at previous party conferences when disagreements between opposing delegates even ended in physical violence. As ANC General Secretary Gwede Mantashe observed at the Mangaung conference "the ANC is a party to be reckoned with, but splinter groups reduce the impact of our movement."
Gap between rich and poor
Opening the conference on Sunday, Zuma had sought to reassure fellow South Africans, and also increasingly nervous investors, that all was well in the country. South Africa was "not about to collapse" and the ANC was in a position to manage Africa's biggest economy, he insisted. Financial analysts disagree; two ratings agencies have recently downgraded South Africa, and growth forecasts for 2012 have had to be revised downwards in the course of the year.
According to figures released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 54 percent of South Africans live on less than 1,50 euros ($ 1.97) a day. Never before has the gap between rich and poor been so great as it is today. There is growing unrest among the party's rank-and-file and the party slogan "A Better Life For All" is now only believed to apply to a few party leaders.
It is perhaps not surprising that an appeal by Zuma to rein in corruption was greeted by peals of laughter. Zuma himself has faced corruption charges and public prosecutors recently launched fresh investigations into his financial affairs. He is alleged to have spent millions of euros from public coffers on renovating family property in Nkandla.
Criticism of ANC
Anti-apartheid activist Rhoda Kadalie, who quit the ANC out of protest a long time ago, told DW before Zuma's re-election that the key issue was not who was the lesser of two evils – Zuma or his challenger Motlanthe. The problem, she said, "was that neither of them were good enough for the country."
"Welcome to SA, where a corrupt looting president is elected... democratically?????" posted a visitor to the website Sowetan shortly after Zuma's victory had been announced.
Steve Friedman from the Center for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg told DW Zuma did indeed name all the problems at the party conference, but "unfortunately the ANC is better at naming problems than tackling them."
With the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as Zuma's deputy, a heavyweight from the anti-apartheid struggle has now returned to the South African political arena. Observers hope he will turn out to be a much-needed breath of fresh air. When Ramaphosa, a former ANC general secretary and trade union leader, helped to draw up the new South African constitution in the mid-1990s there was applause on all sides. But some have their reservations about him. In the last few years, he has amassed a fortune through his business activities.
That in itself would hardly be reprehensible in a country in which many former revolutionaries have a acquired a penchant for pinstriped suits.
However, Ramaphosa's name has been linked to the violent deaths of 34 miners during the labor unrest at the Marikana mine in August. He is on the board of Lonmin, the owner of the mine. As a trade unionist in his earlier days, Rampahosa, once led a strike of 300,000 miners, yet in the committee of inquiry into the Marikana deaths, he was accused of having branded the strikers as criminals, urging the security forces to take tough action against them.
Ramaphosa has since apologized. His supporters praise his contribution to the anti-apartheid struggle and to one of the world's most modern constitutions. His critics see him as living proof of the conflict of interests in which South African politicians become entangled when they enter big business. Steve Friedman says Ramaphosa is popular in the business world, among the (black) middle class and with the media. "He will increasingly become the face of the ANC and as deputy president acquire a more prominent role. Whether this will lead to any substantial political improvements remains to be seen."