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S. Africa's Zuma Vows Change at Party Conference

  • Anita Powell

President Jacob Zuma sings before addressing delegates during the opening of their elective conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa, December 16, 2012.

President Jacob Zuma sings before addressing delegates during the opening of their elective conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa, December 16, 2012.

South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, says the ruling African National Congress party is “the only hope for the poor and the marginalized” during an address to the party convention at which he hopes to be re-elected party leader.

South African President Jacob Zuma began and ended his speech to the African National Congress convention with a moving struggle-era song about anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela.

The road is long that we are traveling, but we will meet on Freedom Day, he sang on Sunday, which is a South African public holiday, the Day of Reconciliation.

President Zuma is not known as a compelling public speaker in English. But his singing voice brought many in the hall to their feet in praise of Nelson Mandela, who remains in a Pretoria hospital for a ninth day.

The groundswell of support in the hall may be short-lived. Zuma is hoping that he will be re-elected party leader at the five-day conference, which will make him heir apparent to the presidency again in 2014. The party also has to hash out hotly contested issues such as land reform and a proposal to nationalize parts of the mining sector.

Zuma said he believes the party he leads “remains the only hope for the poor and marginalized,” but his tenure has been criticized and marred with allegations of corruption and poor governance.

While citing the party’s achievements, Zuma said its mission has changed since its founding in 1912 as a party fighting injustice under apartheid. He said the ANC now runs a government and needs a cadre that knows how to run a government and succeed.

During the convention that runs through Thursday the party’s 4,500 delegates will choose between Zuma and his main challenger, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, for the ANC’s top job. Analysts almost universally have bet on Zuma over the quiet, professorial Motlanthe.

Though Zuma focused on the party’s recent achievements and goals, the hospitalization of the 94-year-old Mandela hung over the ceremony.

"We pay tribute in particular to Isithwalandwe President Mandela, the first commander-in-chief of MK, who is currently hospitalized in Pretoria. He is receiving good care from a competent and caring medical team. We wish him and family all the best during this time," he said.

And he closed his two-hour speech, with the song to the one man the ANC is united behind after all these years.

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