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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa's ruling African National Congress will vote for its new president on Monday, as delegates choose between two candidates to lead Nelson Mandela's historic liberation movement.
After a rocky start to the gathering, two candidates accepted the party's nomination for president: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, former African Union commission chair and Zuma's ex-wife, and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, a wealthy businessman who has been increasingly critical of the president.
Voting among the more than 4,700 delegates got off to such a late start Sunday that it was postponed until Monday morning, an ANC official told the press.
The ANC's new leader is likely to become South Africa's next president, as the party's candidate in the presidential election in 2019.
The conference on the outskirts of Johannesburg brings to an end President Jacob Zuma's two terms as head of the party.
Though either presidential candidate could still prevail, Ramaphosa had the edge after the nominations were announced, with the backing of 1,469 ANC branches, compared to Dlamini-Zuma's 1,094. The Saturday night endorsement of Ramaphosa by Baleka Mbete, the party's outgoing national chairwoman and a Zuma ally, also fueled speculation that the race may be swinging in the deputy president's favor.
The mood at the party conclave, held once every five years, was jubilant on Saturday as delegates arrived at a conference center in luxury buses, clad in the ANC's yellow and green colors. However disagreements quickly erupted over the legitimacy of some delegate groups. By midday Sunday, the credential process was resolved.
The ANC's reputation has taking a beating during Zuma's scandal-ridden tenure, causing rifts that threaten to split Africa's oldest liberation party. Keeping the ANC together has been a key talking point at the gathering.
"In all its manifestations, factionalism has become the biggest threat to the organization," Zuma said in a tepidly received speech at the opening of the conference. "Unity is what will make the ANC and South Africa succeed."
On Saturday, Zuma made a surprise announcement that the government would fully subsidize tertiary education for "poor and working class" students, despite findings of a government commission that South Africa cannot afford it. Some observers read the move as a last-minute push to help the campaign of Dlamini-Zuma.