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Final Days in the Battle for South Africa's Ruling Party Presidency

This week in South Africa, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma ventured into each other’s political strongholds, as their battle for leadership of the ruling ANC nears an end. President Mbeki visited Bloemfontein, while Mr. Zuma traveled to the Eastern Cape. The ANC national conference gets underway Sunday.

VOA reporter Delia Robertson is following the story. From Johannesburg, she spoke to English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about why the men visited each other’s political strongholds.

“I think they’re hoping to shore up their existing support and perhaps even gain support from people in those areas, who might have already indicated some support for their opponent. But basically it’s about getting as many votes as they can for the conference in Polokwane next week,” she says.

However, choosing an ANC leader is not the only big issue on the party’s agenda. Robertson says, “You may recall that in June of this year that the ANC held what they called a special policy conference at which a number of policy issues were debated. Both policy proposals (and) resolutions were taken to the branches where further discussion has taken place and the conference will be deciding on those policies in the coming days.”

Robertson says that although the ANC conference begins on Sunday, it’s unlikely the announcement of who won the party leadership will be made before Wednesday night or Thursday morning. The ANC leader is chosen by a simple majority vote.

While Zuma appears to be leading in the contest for party president, Robertson says there’s always last minute bargaining. “It’s sort of tradition at ANC conferences that even though the regions have decided, especially when you have two major contenders as you do in this case, and especially when there’s been a great deal of controversy as there has been in this case, you have a great deal of lobbying and bargaining and stuff going on at the conference itself. And that is expected to happen this time around. While Mr. Zuma appears to be the current leader by quite a distance, it’s possible it’ll change. I don’t think it’s likely that it’ll change significantly, but it is possible. I think we’re likely to see some shifts in terms of what happens with the women’s vote,” she says.”

Robertson adds that Zuma supporters say if their man wins the party president, there are no plans to thwart policies in the remaining term of President Mbeki. The next general elections are scheduled for April 2009.