South Africa: Jacob Zuma backs Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma for president, again

By Carien du Plessis
Posted on Wednesday, 28 September 2022 12:15

The future beckons: Ramaphosa hugs opponent Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma after winning the presidency of the ANC. Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images

South Africa's former president, Jacob Zuma, has caused an upset with a late-night statement in which he said he will again support his former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, for president.

He also said he would be willing to contest for the position of the governing ANC’s chairperson at the party’s elective conference in December.

Zuma’s statement – issued just before midnight on Monday – is bound to weaken the lobby opposing a second term for President Cyril Ramaphosa, of which he is party.

Cracks in the anti-Ramaphosa camp

It came hours before the leaders of his home province – the biggest voting bloc in the ANC, with 866 voting delegates expected at the conference – declared their support for former health minister Zweli Mkhize.

In his statement, also tweeted by his daughter and most vocal campaigner, Dudu Zuma-Sambudla, Zuma made it clear that he has “not endorsed or supported any other presidential candidate” for the conference. There had been rumours on social media that Zuma was backing Mkhize.


The president of the ANC is also likely to become the country’s president, if the party wins the 2024 elections with a majority, as it has in the past three decades.

Dlamini Zuma, 73, confirmed her candidacy earlier this month, after the nominations period for the conference officially opened.

She and Zuma’s daughter, Thuthukile Zuma – who is politically active in her role as treasurer for the ANC Youth League’s interim task team – circulated posters on social media seeking, but failed to gain a lot of traction.

Dlamini Zuma’s move came as a surprise to many who reckoned she was readying herself for retirement after serving as minister since 1994, with a six-year break during which she was African Union Commission chairperson.

However, there is speculation that Zuma is supporting her because he expects her to protect him from prosecution on long-standing corruption charges related to the country’s 1990s arms deal.

Zuma was released on medical parole last year after serving weeks of a prison sentence for ignoring an order of the Constitutional Court to testify before the state capture inquiry. They have four children together, but Dlamini Zuma divorced her polygamist husband in the late 1990s.

“That NDZ thing is stillborn,” says a former Ramaphosa supporter, who claims that some campaigners are just raising funds for their own pockets. “It’s controlled by some young thieves who want to steal Christmas money from businesspeople.”

Dlamini Zuma is back

Zuma, however, in his statement, said he supported Dlamini Zuma because she “remains the most capable to lead the ANC, given her track record in the movement and government, leadership capabilities and qualities and her understanding and knowledge of the ANC amongst others”.

Dlamini Zuma narrowly lost to Ramaphosa in 2017 after he made a last-minute deal with now deputy president David Mabuza, who convinced his supporters in the Mpumalanga province to vote for Ramaphosa.

“I have heard some few comrades raising some issues with regards to her, but unfortunately they all dismal[ly] failed to present a better candidate with better credentials than hers except those who have a lot of money,” Zuma said.

That NDZ [Dlamini Zuma] thing is stillborn. It’s controlled by some young thieves who want to steal Christmas money from businesspeople

According to ANC rules, Mkhize is not allowed to run for a position because of reports that his family benefited from an improperly-awarded Covid-19 communications contract. The party’s integrity commission has subsequently recommended that he be suspended.

A campaigner, however, says they will push for the rule disqualifying Mkhize to be dropped at the start of the conference.

Failing to attract support

In an effort to attract additional support from the anti-Ramphosa lobby, Dlamini Zuma – in an interview on Sunday – expressed her opposition to the party’s rule, which says those who are criminally charged should step aside from their position in the party. “The problem is that you step aside, you are charged, you step aside. Three years on, the trial hasn’t started. What is that?” she said.

It’s not clear whether these pronouncements have won her any support.

One of Mkhize’s campaigners in June said Dlamini Zuma, together with Mkhize, tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu, and suspended ANC secretary general Ace Magashule, who is facing fraud charges, were in the same caucus.

On Monday, he said the idea was for each of these leaders to lobby support from the party’s branches and the caucus would then determine who it would back as presidential candidate.

“Even then, both Lindiwe and NDZ [Dlamini Zuma] didn’t take kindly to this. That approach always meant the proof of the pudding will be in the eating – go and do the hard slog and get the numbers on your side,” he said. “They weren’t happy with that.”

Following his resignation as minister over a year ago, Mkhize spent a lot of time in his home province, KwaZulu-Natal, wooing support from ANC branches and raising funds.

He conceded that Zuma’s support for Dlamini Zuma could divide the province’s vote, meaning the party’s most powerful province could again find itself not having any representation amongst the top six officials.

Support for Mkhize

Several provinces have thus far declared their support for Ramaphosa, including the second largest, Eastern Cape (660 voting delegates); the third largest, Limpopo (646); as well as Gauteng (514) and Mpumalanga (385).

Mkhize’s campaigner, however, says they are hoping to secure large chunks of support in the Gauteng, Limpopo, NorthWest (344 voting delegates) and Mpumalanga provinces.

They are also lobbying for party treasurer general Paul Mashatile – as deputy president – and the Eastern Cape’s provincial chairperson, Oscar Mabuyane – for party chairperson – to serve on their slate.

Magashule’s home province, the Free State, is the third smallest voting bloc in the party with 318 voting delegates, and a lack of meaningful support for him outside the province means that his popularity as running mate has greatly diminished.

Mashatile, who has also been acting as secretary general since Magashule’s suspension last year, and who therefore has a tight grip on the party’s administration, has emerged as a possible kingmaker with support from both Ramaphosa and the opposing camps.

The lobbyist says it’s unlikely that Zuma will find a place on Mkhize’s slate because he doesn’t bring additional voting numbers – unlike those with strong support in other provinces. Since the party got into power in 1994, a former president has never sought to serve in a lower position. All former presidents remain ex officio members of the ANC’s national executive committee.

The party’s top six officials all come from different provinces, for the sake of fairness and balance.

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