JOHANNESBURG 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 next week's internal ANC election in the central 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," Masebe told Reuters on Thursday.
Despite Motlanthe's challenge, 70-year-old Zuma remains firm favorite to win re-election as head of the ANC, a position that tees him up for a second five-year term as state President in a 2014 general election.
Nelson Mandela's 100-year-old former liberation movement retains the strong emotional support of most of South Africa's black majority, making its defeat at the ballot box in the next 10 years highly unlikely.
Zuma won wide support from ANC branches in five provinces, meaning that - barring any last-minute mishaps - he should be re-elected in Bloemfontein.
The previous ANC election, in the northern city of Polokwane in 2007, was a chaotic, riotous affair that led ultimately to Zuma's ousting of then-President Thabo Mbeki.
(Reporting by Peroshni Govender; Editing by Ed Cropley and Pascal Fletcher)