South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has been re-elected leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party despite being mired in scandal and facing calls to step down as president.
Delegates at an ANC leadership conference voted on Monday to keep Ramaphosa as head of the party with 2,476 voting for him and 1,897 selecting his rival, former Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.
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The result was welcomed by the president’s supporters who burst into celebrations as the results were announced in Johannesburg.
The vote is a welcome victory for Ramaphosa. Last week, he survived a vote to start impeachment proceedings against him after a parliamentary report said he might have broken anti-corruption laws by keeping large undeclared amounts of dollars at his farm and failing to declare their theft.
Ramaphosa’s victory paves the way for him to run for a second term as president in 2024.
Ramaphosa and the newly elected ANC leadership have many challenges to address as South Africa experiences crippling power cuts of more than seven hours a day, an unemployment rate of 35 percent and reports of widespread corruption.
Ramaphosa admitted that his government was partly to blame for the electricity crisis when he spoke at the opening of the conference on Friday. He promised that his government would ensure an adequate supply of electricity by purchasing more renewable energy over the next few years.
Ramaphosa also pledged that his government would continue to fight corruption, even as he was embroiled in a corruption scandal.
He faced a rival in the party election whose own reputation has been tarnished. Mkhize resigned as health minister last year over a scandal in which his family was found to have benefitted from a government contract.
Although the race was closer than expected, Ramaphosa did manage to more than triple his margin of victory from the very narrow 179 votes he won by in 2017.
Meanwhile, two of Ramaphosa’s main critics within his cabinet were decisively sidelined.
Cooperative Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who last week voted in parliament in favour of impeachment proceedings, declined a nomination to run for ANC president. Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu appeared isolated at the conference.
Despite Ramaphosa’s win, the ANC remains deeply divided. Former President Jacob Zuma leads nearly half of the party that is opposed to Ramaphosa and his anti-corruption drive. Mkhize has emerged as the public head of that faction.
Oscar Mabuyane, who lost the contest for the position of ANC deputy president, said he is happy with Ramaphosa’s victory.
“This win is not only for the ANC perspective or a faction. It is for the country,” Mabuyane told The Associated Press.
Mandilakhe Kondile, a delegate from Eastern Cape province, said Ramaphosa deserved another chance as the ANC’s leader.
“It is our strong belief that Ramaphosa was not given enough time to make meaningful changes,” Kondile said. “He has only led for five years. Now it is a second chance for him to deal with the issues facing South Africans and to unify the African National Congress.”
Delegates chose Paul Mashatile, the party’s outgoing treasurer general, as Ramaphosa’s deputy. The party re-elected Gwede Mantashe to another term as national chairman.
Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula was elected as the party’s secretary general, and his deputies will be Nomvula Mokonyane and Maropene Ramokgopa. The party’s new treasurer general is Gwen Ramakgopa.