Soweto, South Africa– Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s deputy president, has been elected as the new leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), narrowly beating Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, after a series of tense sessions at the party’s conference.
The ANC announced on Monday that Ramaphosa had defeated Dlamini-Zuma, the former chairperson of the African Union Commission and President Jacob Zuma‘s preferred candidate, to become the leader of Africa’s oldest liberation movement.
More than 4,700 delegates cast their ballot in a marathon voting session that began late on Sunday and continued until mid-morning on Monday.
Ramaphosa won 2,440 votes to Dlamini-Zuma’s 2,261.
He will replace Zuma as ANC president and almost certainly run for the country’s presidency when South Africa takes to the polls in 2019.
Zuma will remain as South Africa’s president until then, but it is possible that Ramaphosa and the new national executive may recall him over a series of allegations of corruption that has dogged his tenure as president.
The announcement of the results marked the end of a bitter leadership race that threatened to split the party, with the two leading candidates presenting completely different visions for the future of the country.
Voting had been initially delayed after ANC officials battled to vet delegates, forcing the conference itself to start late. Hundreds of delegates were also disqualified from voting.
The markets reacted immediately to the news, with the South African currency, the rand, strengthening to the dollar.
Ramaphosa, a successful businessman and one of South Africa’s wealthiest people, ran on a campaign to fight corruption and increase economic growth.
Analysts said he was seen as the more “credible” candidate and a possible antidote to the recent failures of the ANC under Zuma.
Ayesha Omar, a lecturer in political science at Wits University, said that many will consider Ramaphosa’s victory as “a kind of renewal and painful end to the kleptocracy of the Zuma order”.
“Ramaphosa illustrates a political will to defeat corruption, strengthen governance and help restore collapsing state institutions,” Omar told Al Jazeera.
Omar added, however, that the same could not be said of Ramaphosa’s fellow ANC apointees, Deputy President David Mabuza and Secretary General Elias Sekgobelo “Ace” Magashoula, describing their election as “deeply concerning”.
“I am not convinced that South Africa is on the birth of democratic regeneration as this result points to an internally factionalised ANC,” said Omar.
“While Ramaphosa might have won the leadership battle, it’s not clear whether he will have enough traction over a divided National Executive Council (NEC) to steer South Africa into a brighter political future.”
Snuki Zikalala, president of the ANC veteran’s league, told Al Jazeera that the results were “largely successful”.
“The margin was very tight and ultimately we can only choose the leaders we deserve,” he said.
But Zikalala bemoaned the lack of gender diversity in the party’s top six positions – just one woman, Deputy Secretary-General Jesse Duarte, made it into the ANC’s most influential posts.
These top NEC positions are now split almost 50-50 between the two competing factions, in what is being seen as an attempt at unity following the hard-fought leadership contest.
Earlier on Monday, Zuma told reporters that he was leaving his post as ANC president satisfied.
“I’m bowing out very happy because I think … I made my contribution. So I am very happy.”
In his final address as ANC president on Saturday, Zuma appeared to endorse Dlamini-Zuma when he said that it was a milestone that there were three female candidates in the initial seven-way race for the party’s leadership.
He also blamed ill-discipline among party cadres and factionalism for the failures of the ANC. He made, however, no mention of the ways in which he had brought the party into disrepute over several allegations of corruption.