It’s only a few weeks to the much anticipated African National Congress (ANC) leadership race. The number of people who want to be president has grown – unheard of in the 105-year history of the embattled ANC, the oldest party on the continent. President Jacob Zuma, who anointed his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, expressed dismay at the number of candidates who want to replace him. But the party veteran and former acting president, Kgalema Motlanthe, thinks there’s nothing wrong.

“It’s actually an anomaly and I suppose it is also a sign of state of health of the ANC because these contenders are members of the National Executive Committee (NEC0, which issued a directive at the beginning of the year that nobody should mention any names,” says Motlanthe.

Dlamini-Zuma, the former Africa Union chairperson and the country’s former foreign affairs, health and home affairs minister, and Cyril Ramaphosa, the Deputy President of South Africa, are the hot contenders. Ahead of the elective conference, starting on December 16 in Johannesburg, ANC members are at loggerheads. Motlanthe decried the premature announcement of contenders and says it goes against party tradition.

Zweli Mkhize, the Treasurer-General of the party, is favored as a second choice by supporters of Dlamini-Zuma.

“We leave everything to the branches to select their leadership and we make ourselves available. I still intend to be part of that leadership, and therefore we believe that as that collective that will emerge, we will be able to work together to focus on issues that will help to build the economy and ensure good governance,” Mkhize told FORBES AFRICA.

Gwede Mantashe, the party’s Secretary General and one of the most powerful members of the NEC, said the number of contenders was ridiculous, during his address of OR Tambo memorial lecture in September.

“It’s ridiculous because we are an organization, we know one another and we know our capabilities. It’s not just a question of coin tossing,” says Mantashe.

Kgalema Motlanthe
Kgalema Motlanthe (Photo by Getty Images)

The ANC has been divided since the 2007 elective conference in Polokwane, in the Limpopo province, where former President Thabo Mbeki, who had hinted at a third term, lost to Zuma, the man he fired as Deputy President in 2005. Since then, competing factions sought control of the party. It continued at the elective conference in 2012, in Mangaung, in the Free State, where Zuma easily defeated Motlanthe’s faction.

“The eradication of factionalism is going to be a long process because it is not just a once-off process; it is going to be something that is going to be linked into rebuilding the values, political education and bringing back party education. There’s also action to those who are involved in corruption, those who are arrogant and those who are not serving the community. All those need to be acted upon so that people can be convinced the ANC is working on some of the things it objected to,” says Mkhize.

ANC is riven by all kinds of scandal; from thousands of illegal members in KwaZulu-Natal, the political murders of whistle-blowers and the leaked Gupta family emails implicating ministers in so-called state capture – that is the takeover of government by private business.

“The ANC has been in power for 23 years and what has happened; corruption is very rife, the generosity and selflessness of former freedom fighters has been turned into greed and desire for the acquisition of material benefits which of course creates a sense of grievance in a majority of people who felt left out. Many of our people are not asking for pity, they are asking for opportunities so they can do for themselves what others are doing for themselves. The number of people without jobs has increased,” says Motlanthe.

“When the Constitution was crafted we hoped we would always have people of Mandela’s strong character in office. Now we know better.”

Whoever emerges victorious in December will be put forward as the ANC candidate for the general election in 2019. The party needs a good one if it is to cling to power against the growing opposition.

“It’s a moot question whether the ANC will retain power beyond the December conference. I don’t know if the new leadership of the ANC that will be elected will understand that or whether they will think by using more slogans you can win people, or a well-couched policy position, will crack it. People go by their lived experience. It will take some doing,” says Motlanthe.

The pros and cons of the main candidates:

Cyril Ramaphosa – As the Deputy President of the country and the ANC, it is expected he should be the next man in line. The killings of 34 miners in Marikana in 2012 affected Ramaphosa’s popularity in South Africa. He was a shareholder in Lonmin, the mining company that operated Marikana. But he’s seen as a business-minded candidate and maybe a little too close to the boardroom for the unions.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – She is one of the longest serving parliamentarians, appointed in 1994 by President Nelson Mandela, she held a string of ministerial posts. Soon after serving as the chairperson of the African Union, Dlamini-Zuma was again sworn in as the Member of Parliament. The fact that she’s the ex-wife of President Zuma, she’s viewed as a proxy of her former husband who could yet face 783 criminal charges.  Dlamini-Zuma could be South Africa’s first female president.

Zweli Mkhize – He is the Treasurer-General of the ANC NEC and for a long time was an ally of President Zuma until he announced his interest to contest for his position. He is one of the favorites of the biggest ANC constituency of KwaZulu-Natal. The fact that he’s vying for the same support base as Dlamini-Zuma will make it tough.

Baleka Mbete – She is the Chairwoman of the NEC and was appointed Speaker of the National Assembly in 2014. Mbete was previously endorsed by ANC Women’s League, but she’s no longer their candidate since Dlamini-Zuma was endorsed early this year.

Lindiwe Sisulu – She’s one of surprise packages. The minister of housing is the daughter of the late Walter and Albertina Sisulu, both ANC stalwarts. ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu and opposition leader Julius Malema called her “politically immature” but she has solid cabinet experience and a famous name.

Jeff Radebe – He is seen as an outsider to lead the ANC. Since 2014, he has served as the Minister in the Presidency. As a cabinet minister, he has served in different portfolios since President Mandela in 1994. In late June, Radebe accepted a nomination from ANC Midvaal, in Gauteng, but ever since then is the quiet candidate whom many are not giving a chance.

Additional reporting by Thobile Hans