Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma says South Africa is ready for a woman president and she is willing to succeed President Thabo Mbeki if nominated.
Interviewed on Kaya FM on Thursday night, Dlamini-Zuma became the latest ANC leader to break silence on whether she would accept nomination in December to one of the six top ANC posts that could potentially pave the way for her to become the country's future president in 2009.
Mbeki is on record as saying he would not mind being succeeded by a woman.
While no province has nominated Dlamini-Zuma as a possible candidate for the ANC presidency, the ANC Women's League has made it clear that Dlamini-Zuma should be nominated as either ANC president or ANC deputy president and is actively lobbying for this. League president Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula made it clear earlier this month that it would be a "very sad day" if the ANC emerged from its Polokwane conference with an all-male presidency on the eve of its 96th birthday.
Dlamini-Zuma is the most senior ANC woman in the country and is the woman leader who mustered the most votes in the ANC NEC election in Stellenbosch in 2002.
While her ex-husband's (Jacob Zuma) camp see her as a potential ANC chairperson, lobbyists for Mbeki and businessman Tokyo Sexwale, have placed her as deputy president on their respective lists. She is the only candidate to have cross-over appeal across all factions.
In reply to a question as to whether she would be available for the country's top post, Dlamini-Zuma said: "ANC cadres never refuse when they are deployed."
Dlamini-Zuma said she was confident that the ANC and the country was indeed ready for a woman president.
"Of course if and when it happens it will be a first and there are always people who are uneasy about firsts," she acknowledged.
However, she questioned what made men more qualified than women to lead and said the ANC should lead the way in ensuring that there was true equality.
She said if the ANC was leading a society in which men and women were equal, it was surely also up to the ANC to ensure that equality was "put it into practice".
"The ANC cannot run away from that struggle, it cannot preach the struggle and then not practise what it preaches'," she said.
She dodged the question of who she believed the next ANC leader should be, stating instead that a decision should not be made on the basis of personalities, but on who could best ensure the country had a proper education and health system and an economy that grew in such a way that all South Africans would benefit from it.
She also preached unity, saying that the person who took over as president of the party must also have the support of all ANC members.