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ANC Rallies Around Zuma After Victory

  • Scott Bobb

In South Africa, leaders of the African National Congress are rallying around the party's new president, Jacob Zuma, following his landslide victory Tuesday over South African President Thabo Mbeki. Reaction from opposition parties, however, has been mixed. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from Johannesburg.

The contest for the presidency of the African National Congress was bitter and often personal. But efforts to heal the wounds began immediately after results were announced.

Election Supervisor Drenee Nupen announced: "The number of votes received by comrade Jacob Zuma: 2,329."

Zuma defeated South African President Thabo Mbeki by more than 800 votes, or 20 percent. As a result, he is the frontrunner to succeed Mr. Mbeki as head-of-state in national elections two years from now.

The party secretary in Mr. Mbeki's home province of Eastern Cape, Siphato Handi, said his group accepted the results.

"Any leader that emerges out of the conference through democratic process has got our [Eastern Cape's] full support. Therefore comrade Zuma has got the full support of every ANC member of the province," said Handi.

Zuma, a populist leader, was backed by trade unions, the Communist Party, and the ANC's youth and women's wings. They criticized the Mbeki government for not easing the plight of the poor.

The president of the Confederation of South African Trade Unions, Willie Madisha, a staunch supporter of Mr. Mbeki, congratulated Zuma and predicted he would heal the rifts in the party.

"For quite sometime now, actually years, the ANC has been divided," said Madisha. "Now what has got to happen is the collective that has come in should be able to build the ANC and should be able to build the country and make sure that in particular the organization comes forward. And I am quite happy we have arrived at this position."

Reaction among South Africa's opposition parties was mixed.

The president of the Inkatha Freedom Party, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, said in a statement that he wished Zuma well, knowing the enormous tasks that lie ahead of him. Zuma played an important role in negotiating an end to clashes between supporters of the ANC and the Inkatha party in the mid-1990s.

But the leader of the Democratic Alliance, Helen Zille said the ANC would be held hostage by what were termed populists and left-wingers.

"It is a sad day for South Africa. Yet people should not feel powerless. They should not feel hopeless," said Zille. "There is an alternative to the ANC that can bring together non-racial democrats to defend the constitution. We will form the center of that alternative."

The leader of the Independent Democrats, Patricia De Lille praised Zuma's election, saying she hoped the ANC would finally focus on creating jobs, fighting poverty and combating crime and corruption.

Former President F.W. de Klerk, whose government negotiated the end of apartheid 13 years ago, said Zuma's election would have a major impact on the leadership of South Africa in the coming years. He said the key to success would be the ability of South Africans to abide by the constitution and the national accord it represents.

Delegates are to adopt a policy platform before the conference ends Thursday.

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