South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma called for unity as the ruling African National Congress marked its 105th anniversary on Sunday amid deep divisions within its ranks.
The ANC, which has won every election since the end of apartheid in 1994, has been plagued by infighting and public protests as South Africa struggles with high unemployment, increased poverty and corruption allegations.
“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 at the Orlando stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg.
“We must give our people hope, we must unite against our common enemies, which are unemployment, poverty and inequality, and not against one another.”
Some senior ANC members called for Zuma to resign in November, pointing to the damage several corruption scandals had had on the party’s image following its worst ever local election performance in August.
“The ANC has heard the message that the people delivered in August. We accept that we have made mistakes,” said Zuma, who survived an attempt by ANC rivals to oust him in November, shrugging off criticism of his conduct by the official anti-graft watchdog and the Constitutional Court.
“When leaders and members of the ANC are corrupt and steal they are betraying the values of the ANC, the people and our country. We will not allow this.”
Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa, reporting from the ANC celebrations in Soweto, said Zuma mentioned the issue of infighting within the ANC early in his speech – an indication of how problematic divisions in the party are.
“He urged people to stay united,” said Mutasa. “He said some South Africans feel the party now is too consumed with fighting itself and not dealing with the issues of the economy, rising poverty and other day-to-day bread-and-butter issues affecting the poor.”
The ANC will pick a new leader at a conference in December. Given its national dominance since coming to power, the winner is likely to go on to be South Africa’s next president when elections are held in 2019.
South Africa’s constitution dictates that Zuma must stand down as the country’s president after his two five-year terms end in 2019.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairwoman of the African Union and a former wife of Jacob Zuma, is viewed as a frontrunner. She is a Zulu, the largest tribe in South Africa, and is expected to have the backing of her former husband, who will have a major say in who succeeds him.
Dlamini-Zuma was regarded as a capable technocrat during her time as South Africa’s minister of home affairs between 2009 and 2012, and has since gained international exposure as the first female head of the African Union.
However, critics of Dlamini-Zuma, a medical doctor trained in South Africa and Britain, say she should have done more to intervene when former president Thabo Mbeki denied that HIV causes Aids and imposed anti-scientific policies.
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.
Ramaphosa, who was once touted as a successor to Nelson Mandela, would be the first choice for many investors because his background in commerce suggests that he will support more pro-business policies than many in the traditionally left-wing ANC.
However, he will face criticism from opponents for his role at platinum producer Lonmin, where he was a director and shareholder when violence led to police shooting dead 34 striking miners in 2012.
An investigation cleared him of wrongdoing.