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In South Africa, President Mbeki May Be Losing Political Clout

In South Africa, Jacob Zuma appears a step closer to winning the presidency of the ruling party, the ANC...and possibly the national presidency as well.

His latest triumph is gaining the endorsement of the ANC Women’s League. The election of a new party leader will take place next month.

But Zuma’s success is a setback for his political opponent, outgoing South African president Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki is the current party leader and is hoping to help choose his successor. VOA reporter Delia Robertson is following the story. From Johannesburg, she spoke to English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the implications for Thabo Mbeki.

“I think it’s pretty devastating actually. I think he’s clearly lost his grip on the ANC. And Mr. Zuma has established his pretty solidly, it would seem. We don’t know what the final outcome at the national conference in Polokwane is going to be next month, but it is a very significant development,” she says.

Zuma’s popularity has grown despite his being tried and acquitted on rape charges and his being investigated for alleged corruption. Robertson says it may be a matter of how Zuma and Mbeki are perceived by the public, one being an extrovert the other an introvert.

“I think it’s about style. In fact I’m convinced it’s a lot to do with style. If you speak to people who do like him, they describe him as a man who is very approachable, who is easy to get along with, who listens to other people, who operates in a consultative way. And all of these things are somewhat different to Mr. Mbeki, who is quite reticent. Some even say he’s very shy. He doesn’t take criticism easily. He doesn’t consult outside of an inner circle of trusted advisers very much. And all of these things have turned the tide against him,” she says.

Asked whether there’s anyone in the ANC that has a chance to stop Zuma’s advance, she says, “The ANC has a strong tradition of trying to bridge divides within the organization, which as you know is really a broad church of groups and people with different points of view. And they also have a way of trying to find solutions, compromises at the last minute that would prevent divisions or a split from occurring that would be lasting. And so, it is possible that other potential candidates will be nominated from the floor at the conference next month.”

These include businessman Cyril Ramaphosa, businessman Tokyo Sexwale and current foreign Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.