* Uncertainty over whether deputy Motlanthe will challenge
* Motlanthe silence pushes Zuma camp to look to Ramaphosa
* Ex-unionist would bring business expertise to government
* But Ramaphosa faces criticism he's betrayed working class
By Peroshni Govender
JOHANNESBURG, Nov 28 South African President
Jacob Zuma looks set for re-election as head of the ruling ANC
in December but the battle for the post of his deputy could
thrust millionaire businessman and former unionist Cyril
Ramaphosa back into political prominence.
Despite sluggish growth in Africa's biggest economy, bloody
labour strife that dented South Africa's image this year and a
slew of scandals during Zuma's three years in power, five of the
country's nine provinces are backing the president to stay on as
leader of the African National Congress.
This line-up suggests Zuma has seen off a campaign to
replace him with Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, whose own
silence on whether he is in the running has opened up the chance
of a political comeback by business tycoon Ramaphosa.
Leadership of Nelson Mandela's 100-year-old liberation
movement would virtually guarantee Zuma another five years as
state president in a 2014 election, given the support the ANC
can still count on from South Africa's black majority.
Nominations for top ANC leadership positions for the Dec.
16-20 party conference close on Friday.
Zuma, who ousted former President Thabo Mbeki in a fight to
head the party in 2007, has obtained wide endorsement from ANC
branches across five provinces, including his home
KwaZulu-Natal, which will have the largest number of voting
delegates at the conference in the central city of Mangaung.
The expectation that Zuma will carry the ANC leadership race
has taken some steam out of the contest and provides an element
of political continuity, even though many have been critical of
his lacklustre performance in office.
Zuma's reputation as president was tarnished by criticism
that his government mishandled a wave of violent mining strikes
in recent months that saw at least 50 people killed, 34 of them
striking miners shot by police in a single day in August. It was
the deadliest labour violence since apartheid ended in 1994.
Critics on the left within his own party accused the
70-year-old president, who is proud of his Zulu origins and
likes to present himself as a genial 'man of the people', of
abandoning poor and working class South Africans.
Business leaders said Zuma's government did not move quickly
enough to halt the labour troubles that led to downgrades from
two credit ratings agencies for South Africa, whose deep social
and economic inequalities are seen as an Achilles Heel.
"His leadership has led to a myriad of conundrums around
policies, and investors expect more inaction from him," Peter
Attard-Montalto, emerging market economist at Nomura
International, told Reuters.
Since Zuma took office in 2009, protests about basic
services have become an almost daily occurrence in urban areas
across South Africa as the ANC struggles to fix a broken
education system and address chronic unemployment and poverty.
This has generated opposition to Zuma from elements within
the party who demand radical economic and social reforms to
achieve a fairer sharing out of the national wealth.
Two provinces have come out in favour of Motlanthe to be
But sources in the camp of the bearded and bespectacled
deputy president, who is 63, said he was reluctant to challenge
his boss in next month's internal ANC election.
Motlanthe's silence on whether he will stand has also forced
Zuma's supporters to look elsewhere for a deputy president.
"Zuma's emissaries initially approached Motlanthe to stay on
as deputy president on condition that he will get their support
for president in the next ANC election (in 2017)," said one Zuma
campaigner. "But his silence, and subsequent support from some
provinces to go it alone, has made us decide to look elsewhere."
This has opened the door for Ramaphosa, a respected and
influential member of the ANC's National Executive Committee,
who has been backed as candidate to be Zuma's deputy in the
party by at least four of the provinces.
Reuters spoke to official sources and lobbyists in all nine
provinces and although Ramaphosa, 60, appeared to have strong
grassroots support from local branches, it was not clear if he
would in the end accept the nomination.
"Cyril is the best man for the job, he brings integrity but
we can only hope that he accepts the nomination. He expects
guarantees that this will line him up to become the automatic
choice for president next time around," said one ANC official
BUSINESS OR POLITICS
Ramaphosa is hailed along with Mandela as a hero of the
anti-apartheid struggle. As a founder leader of the National
Union of Mineworkers, he led a three-week strike against South
Africa's white mining bosses in 1987 that gained him
But he left politics for business in 1997 three years after
the end of apartheid, and is now South Africa's second richest
But his shareholding in Lonmin, the company at the centre of
the Aug. 16 Marikana mine killings in which 34 strikers were
shot by police, has laid him open to accusations that he has
betrayed his original working class allegiances.
An ANC member from the Free State province, who asked not to
be named, said: "We really don't know if he will leave his high
life in business to come back to a position in the ANC."
Ramaphosa's extensive business empire includes ownership of
the MacDonald's South Africa franchise, he is the chairman of
telecoms giant MTN, and also sits on the board of Standard Bank,
Africa's largest bank by assets, and of brewer SABMiller.
In the ANC's closed political culture, open ambition is
frowned upon, so Ramaphosa, Mothlanthe, or any other candidates
are unlikely to go public with their intentions before the
nomination process closes on Friday.
The contest will be fought behind closed doors in a five-day
conference in Mangaung next month with 91 percent of voters
being ordinary rank and file members. The balance will come from
national and provincial leaders, the women's league, youth
league and veterans league.
Although Ramaphosa's nomination may go down well with the
business sector, insiders said he would not have carte blanche
over economic policy.
"Whatever his success in business was does not matter," said
a senior ANC official from Mpumalanga province.
"The ANC discusses policies as a collective, it's not up to
individuals," the official added.