ANC vote underway

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JOHANNESBURG, Dec 18 (Reuters) – Battle lines were drawn on Monday as voting began to elect a new leader to succeed President Jacob Zuma as head of a party that has ruled since the end of apartheid.

The vote is perhaps the most pivotal moment for the ANC
since it launched black-majority rule under Nelson Mandela’s
leadership 23 years ago.

Whoever emerges at the helm of the African National
Congress, a 105-year-old liberation movement that dominates
Africa’s most industrialised economy, is likely to become the
country’s next president after elections in 2019.

A total of 4,776 delegates began casting their ballots in
the early hours of Monday, the ANC said, to select between
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Zuma’s preferred candidate,
his ex-wife and former cabinet minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

The two were the only candidates nominated for the ANC
leadership at a conference in Johannesburg on Sunday night.

In what some media has called a boost for Ramaphosa, courts ruled that officials from
some provinces seen as supporting Dlamini-Zuma had been elected
illegally and were barred from the conference.

The rand currency gained after that news on Friday,
extending its gains to more than 2 percent on Sunday.
The currency is expected to be volatile on Monday.

“The rand is stronger on the likelihood of Cyril Ramaphosa
being elected ANC head,” said Brett Birkenstock, a director at
Overberg Asset Management. “The markets favour Ramaphosa and
expect him to improve the economy.”

A winner had been expected to be announced on Sunday, but
owing to long delays, the vote had been pushed back repeatedly.
It was not clear when the outcome would be announced.

On Saturday, Zuma announced plans to raise subsidies for
tertiary colleges and universities, a move that analysts said
was timed to appeal to members of the party
allied to Dlamini-Zuma, the first woman to be nominated as a
candidate for the ANC presidency.

Ramaphosa, a former trade union leader who later became a
businessman and is now one of the richest people in South
Africa, has vowed to fight corruption and revitalise the
economy, a message that has gone down well with foreign
investors.

Dlamini-Zuma pledged during her campaign to tackle the
racial inequality that has persisted in South Africa since the
end of white-minority rule.

Ramaphosa drew the majority of nominations from party
branches scattered across the country. But the complexity of the
leadership race means it is far from certain he will win when
the votes are finally counted.

“The race is extremely close,” said Susan Booysen, a
political analyst at the University of Witwatersrand’s School of
Governance in Johannesburg. “Before today we said Dlamini-Zuma
could emerge as a winner. Even if there is a strong lead in
terms of branch nominations by the Ramaphosa camp, it’s not
clear-cut.”
(Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Paul Simao)