A former school teacher who’s been linked to a succession of scandals in South Africa has emerged as a likely kingmaker in the contest to decide who will become the next leader of the ruling party and probably the country.
David Mabuza, who calls himself “the cat” because of his political survival skills, emerged as a power broker within the African National Congress by signing up tens of thousands of new members in the rural eastern Mpumalanga region where he is the party’s chairman and provincial premier. As a result, he’ll lead the second-largest voting bloc to the ANC’s national elective conference that begins on Dec. 16 and ends Dec. 20 in Johannesburg.
The contest pits Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa against Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, President Jacob Zuma’s ex-wife and the former chairwoman of the African Union Commission. While Mabuza persuaded 223 of the party’s Mpumalanga branches to opt for a consensus leader rather than endorse anyone, neither of the two contenders are likely to withdraw and he’ll hold considerable sway over who they will eventually back.
“The fight is going down to the wire,” Susan Booysen, a political science professor at the University of Witwatersrand’s School of Governance in Johannesburg, said by phone. “A few hundred votes could be crucial at the end of the day. Mabuza has multiple stakes in the game. He can be the kingmaker.”
Mabuza, 57, who is widely known by his initials DD, said in a Dec. 1 interview that the ANC needs to avoid a bruising leadership battle that could cost it support in 2019 elections. Backing for the party, which has ruled since Nelson Mandela led it to power after the end of apartheid in 1994, already slumped to a record low in last year’s municipal vote. Support fell because of widespread discontent over Zuma’s leadership and allegations that he allowed members of a wealthy family who are in business with his son to influence the awarding of cabinet posts and state contracts.
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