JOHANNESBURG — South Africa's soft-spoken Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe will compete next week against President Jacob Zuma to lead the country's ruling party, the African National Congress.
Motlanthe accepted nominations from several provinces and the party's youth league to enter the race to be the ANC's next president, his spokesman Thabo Masebe told The Associated Press Thursday.
The announcement ends weeks of uncertainty as Motlanthe previously told foreign journalists he was "agonizing" over whether to accept the call to challenge Zuma, whose popularity has faded over corruption allegations and questions about his personal life.
Motlanthe also accepted nominations to hold onto his current position as the ANC's deputy president, as well as to hold another leadership position in the party, Masebe said. That could put Motlanthe in position to hold onto his deputy president post even if he loses out to Zuma for the top spot. However, others have been discussed as possible replacements for the deputy position in a bid to push out Motlanthe, 63.
Becoming leader of the ANC means a nearly automatic ticket to becoming the president in post-apartheid South Africa. Opposition parties don't garner the widespread support given to the ANC, the party of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela. The party's president will become the state president, if the ANC wins national elections in 2014, and its deputy president will serve in the same national office.
In many ways, Motlanthe appears to offer almost the opposite qualities of Zuma, 70. Motlanthe is largely reserved, while Zuma knows how to whip up a crowd. Motlanthe also appears untainted by the recent corruption allegations that have plagued Zuma and other high-level and local ANC officials in recent years. Motlanthe previously served as a caretaker leader for South Africa, serving as the nation's president from September 2008 to May 2009 after then-President Thabo Mbeki resigned after being ousted as the head of the ANC by Zuma in a tight election.
However, Motlanthe held back as long as possible before confirming he'd challenge Zuma. While the ANC largely doesn't have a history of candidates publicly campaigning, some analysts say Motlanthe was hesitant because he was not sure of adequate support from rank-and-file party members to unseat Zuma.
Zuma faces growing disenchantment from South Africa's public, as news spread of the millions of dollars of government-paid improvements to his private homestead. Local newspapers repeatedly raise claims about Zuma being unable to manage his personal finances and relying on friends to bail him out – including one who was convicted of trying to elicit a bribe for Zuma to deflect investigations into a national arms deal.
Zuma also previously faced intense criticism over his sexual activity, including being acquitted of raping a family friend. He also outraged AIDS activists by testifying that he had unprotected, consensual sex with the HIV-positive woman and then took a shower in the belief that it would protect him from AIDS.
Yet Zuma has garnered support from many provincial ANC meetings heading into next week's ANC convention, making him for now the front runner.