Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa saw his chances of becoming South Africa’s next leader increase on Thursday when a powerful union group backed him to succeed President Jacob Zuma as head of the ruling party.
Zuma is expected to stand down as African National Congress, ANC, president at a party conference in December 2017, ahead of national elections in 2019 when his tenure as president would end.
Mr. Ramaphosa, a former anti-apartheid leader popular with investors, is likely to face strong competition if he is to contest, including from Mr. Zuma’s ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who is head of the African Union.
No one has declared an ambition to compete but unofficial jockeying has begun and the debate over who should succeed Mr. Zuma has heated up since the ANC suffered its worst local election results in August, exposing party divisions.
A split has emerged between those who wanted a successor loyal to Mr. Zuma, and a faction that wanted a fresh start under Mr. Ramaphosa.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), which is part of the ruling political alliance and claimed to represent 1.8 million workers, became the latest to weigh in, telling journalists it had “resolved to campaign” for Mr. Ramaphosa.
According to political analyst Nic Borain, this is a victory for the camp opposing Mr. Zuma and backing Cyril.
“They are still up against it because Jacob Zuma’s support base is dominant, but Cyril is still very much in the game,’’ Borain said. ‘