* Motlanthe takes the plunge against contest favourite Zuma
* Deputy president concerned about democracy, transparency
* No dramatic policy shifts seen, but mining tax an option
By Peroshni Govender and Ed Cropley
JOHANNESBURG, Dec 13 South African Deputy
President Kgalema Motlanthe will challenge President Jacob Zuma
for leadership of the ruling African National Congress (ANC)
next week, spicing up a one-sided race for the top political
position in Africa's biggest economy.
Motlanthe aide Thabo Masebe ended months of speculation
about the internal ANC election in the city of Bloemfontein,
saying Motlanthe would enter the contest after winning the
backing of two of South Africa's nine provinces.
"I understand he will contest the presidency," he told
Reuters on Thursday.
The 70-year-old Zuma remains firm favourite to win
re-election in Bloemfontein as head of the ANC, a position that
puts him in pole position to secure a second five-year term as
state president in an election in 2014.
The ANC, which has run South Africa since the end of
apartheid in 1994, retains the strong emotional support of most
of South Africa's 80 percent black majority, making a defeat at
the ballot box any time this decade highly unlikely.
Motlanthe has not expanded on why he will oppose Zuma. But
he has spoken of restoring democracy and openness to Nelson
Mandela's 100-year-old liberation movement, whose image has
suffered under the scandal-plagued Zuma.
Zuma won wide support from ANC branches in five provinces,
meaning that, barring any last-minute mishaps, he should emerge
again as party leader in Bloemfontein.
The previous ANC election, in the city of Polokwane in 2007,
was a riotous affair at which Zuma ousted then-president Thabo
Mbeki, creating rifts that divide the party to this day and
hamper its ability to run a sophisticated emerging economy.
Mindful of the Polokwane chaos, which included delegates
throwing chairs and baring their buttocks at the vanquished
Mbeki, the ANC's overseers are keeping a tight lid on the vote,
including even withholding the names of leadership candidates.
"We're not at liberty to tell you the nominees," party
election commission chairman Mochubela Seekoe told a news
conference, infuriating reporters crammed into the lobby of the
ANC headquarters in downtown Johannesburg.
Motlanthe is also running to retain his current job of
deputy leader, but faces a strong last-minute challenge from
Cyril Ramaphosa, an inspirational anti-apartheid union leader
and now South Africa's second-richest black businessman.
Apart from the votes, the four-day conference, which starts
on Sunday, will chart a broad policy course for the next five
years, reaffirming the primacy of the state in guiding the
economy with a mixture of direct intervention and regulation.
Nationalisation of the mines - championed by expelled ANC
youth leader Julius Malema - has been dropped as a viable
course, but the party may still opt to back a "resource rent"
mining tax, already labelled "unnecessary and unwise" by the
outgoing chief executive of the mining giant Anglo American
However, the party still appears unwilling to risk upsetting
its grass roots with measures to boost economic growth, forecast
at a lukewarm 2.5 percent this year.
The economy was growing by more than 5 percent in the years
leading up to the 2008 global economic crisis and has struggled
to return to those levels under Zuma. Its industries have been
shedding jobs as labour costs have outstripped those of emerging
market peers whose workers are often much more efficient.
Economists have said for years that the government needs to
ease the regulation of a labour market ranked as one of the most
restrictive in the world, and have urged it to reduce the role
of the state in the economy.
"Overall, the ANC collectively still does not appear to be
in the right place to take the politically very difficult steps
to ensure a boost to potential growth," investment bank Nomura
said in a research note.
Nor are business leaders the only ones worried at the
prospect of seven more years of Zuma, who in recent weeks has
been embroiled in a storm of criticism over a 240 million rand
($28 million) state-funded upgrade to his private home.
This week, the South African Council of Churches, one of the
main players in the struggle against white-minority rule,
accused the ANC of moral decay and abandoning the goal of
building a non-racial democracy from the ashes of apartheid.
Commentators have also noted the coincidence of looming
party in-fighting in Bloemfontein with the 94-year-old Mandela's
admission to hospital last week with a lung infection.
"It is impossible to separate the growing unease about many
aspects of South African politics from the failing health of the
universally loved founding father of the country," Cape
Town-based analyst Nic Borain said.