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No shift seen in South African economic policy: officials

POLOKWANE, South Africa (Reuters) - The election of Jacob Zuma to head the ruling African National Congress was unlikely to lead to a shift in economic policy, senior officials said on Tuesday.

The ANC dumped President Thabo Mbeki after two terms and put the populist Zuma a step away from the national presidency in 2009.

Some analysts had raised concerns Zuma would tilt Africa’s largest economy to the left, although he has tried to reassure investors. South Africa’s economy has registered its longest period of growth over the past nine years.

Kgalema Motlanthe, who was elected ANC deputy leader, said earlier in the day economic policy was up to the party’s National Executive Committee.

“At the moment, there are no ideological differences. The differences are based on personalities and will not impact on policy at all. The policy is in place and intact,” he said.

Market reaction to Zuma’s win was muted. The rand was about two cents firmer, trading at 6.8999 against the dollar two hours after the results were released.

“For now, the market should have been looking for a Zuma victory so the market reaction should be modest ... the focus now is going to be on learning about Mr. Zuma’s vision for the country and his likely choices for close political and economic advisers,” ABSA Capital head of research Jeff Gable said.

“Everyone should have been aware that Zuma was going to win.”

Some investors were worried that Zuma would tip policies towards those of his staunch supporters, the country’s powerful trade unions and Communist Party, who have railed against Mbeki’s pro-business stance.

Trade union federation COSATU has called on the government to loosen monetary policy and increase spending to bring the benefits of an economic boom to millions of poor and unemployed.

But Motlanthe said the new ANC leadership would not be in debt to the unions.

“There is no room for payback ... COSATU has no voting rights so there is no way they can claim ‘we put you there’” he said.

“Investors are concerned... (but) basic policy will not change. The NEC sub-committee on economics pays attention to these issues,” Motlanthe said.

Senior officials, including Finance Minister Trevor Manuel and central bank Governor Tito Mboweni, have said in the past that South Africa would continue on its economic path regardless of who won the ANC’s top post.

Additional reporting by Gordon Bell, Editing by Barry Moody