Around 5,000 delegates from South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) have gathered in Johannesburg for a key conference to choose the ruling party’s next leader.
The five-day convention, which started on Saturday, comes amid divisions between the party’s faithful over who will replace President Jacob Zuma as head of the ANC.
There are seven candidates for the post, but the frontrunners are Cyril Ramaphosa, the party’s current deputy president; and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, former chairperson of the African Union High Commission and Zuma’s ex-wife.
Zuma, whose tenure has been tainted by allegations of corruption, is set to vacate the country’s presidency in 2019, and whoever ends up leading the ANC will likely replace him in that role, too.
South Africa will hold a national election in 2019.
Speaking at the conference, Zuma acknowledged that this was a crucial moment for the ANC.
“[This] conference is taking place at a time when our movement is at a crossroads,” he said. “While we identify corporate greed as posing a serious threat to the ANC, we also need to look at internal dynamics within our organisations.”
Al Jazeera’s Tania Page, reporting from Johannesburg, said many South Africans see the contest as “a battle for the heart of the ANC”.
While Dlamini-Zuma has run a campaign promising to improve the lives of poor, black South Africans, Ramaphosa has placed emphasis on fixing the country’s economy.
Read our Q&A with independent political analyst Ebrahim Fakir about what the conference means for the ANC and for South Africa here.
Gwede Mantashe, the ANC secretary-general, said the convention should not create lasting divisions within the party.
“We are hoping to come out of this conference unified,” he said.
“It is not the magic of the individual, but a function of engagement in the conference itself, to try to unify the body of the ANC,” he added.
“The unity is not the unity of leaders. It’s the unity of the body of the ANC.”
In addition to the position of leader, delegates will also be deciding for other senior positions within the ANC.
The party is one of the oldest liberation movements on the continent and was once led by the late Nelson Mandela, an iconic freedom fighter and former South African president, who oversaw the country’s transition from apartheid rule to democracy.
The ANC has dominated South African politics since the fall of apartheid, but, under Zuma, it has lost control of several major cities in local elections, including the country’s capital, Pretoria.