By Joe Brock
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s ruling African National Congress needs to end infighting and focus on winning back public support, President Jacob Zuma said on Sunday as he tries to unite an increasingly divided party.
Some senior ANC members called for Zuma to resign in November, pointing to the damage several corruption scandals had on the party’s image following its worst ever local election performance in August.
Zuma has also been accused of arrogance and failing to acknowledge waning support for the ANC after he made comments about the party being supported by God and ruling until “Jesus comes back”.
At the ANC’s 105th birthday celebration at Orlando Stadium in Johannesburg, an event usually reserved for self-congratulation, Zuma struck a more humble tone.
“Our people have told us that we come across as too busy fighting one another and do not pay sufficient attention to their needs,” 74-year old Zuma told thousands of supporters dressed in the ANC’s yellow and green.
“We must give our people hope, we must unite against our common enemies, which are unemployment, poverty and inequality, and not against one another.”
Widening divisions in the ANC have intensified the debate over who will succeed Zuma at a party conference in December and also likely take over as South African president at elections in 2019, given the party’s national dominance.
The ANC’s influential Women’s League on Saturday said it would back Zuma’s ex-wife and African Union Chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as a candidate for ANC leader.
Vice President Cyril Ramaphosa, a unionist-turned-business tycoon, is viewed as her most likely rival after powerful trade unions endorsed him last year.
Neither Dlamini-Zuma, 67, or Ramaphosa, 64, have declared their intention to run.
Julius Malema, Zuma’s former protege and now firebrand leader of the radical Economic Freedom Fighters, has said that Zuma is plotting a third term as ANC president but the party’s Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe denied this on Sunday.
Zuma said during his speech that a new ANC leadership would be elected in December, suggesting he will step down then. South Africa’s constitution dictates Zuma must stand down as the country’s president after his two five-year terms end in 2019.
(Editing by Jane Merriman)