The embattled African National Congress (ANC) deputy president Jacob Zuma has told businessmen he is ready to govern South Africa, the Sunday Times reported.
The ANC remains the dominant political party in South Africa, 13 years after it led negotiations that ended white rule. If Zuma is elected leader of the party next month, he is almost certain to become the country's president in 2009.
Zuma was quoted as responding to a question at a private business function by saying: "If I am asked, I will be ready for the task."
Zuma was acquitted of rape last year but could still face charges of corruption. His association with increasingly vocal trade unions have raised concerns in the business community.
But he has been meeting the business community in a new charm offensive designed to reassure them that he will not steer away from policies that have delivered an economic boom.
In the run-up to the ANC conference in December, regions have to choose their preferred candidates for the top party post and the race is gathering speed.
Although Thabo Mbeki is constitutionally barred from a third presidential term, there are no such limitations in the ANC statues and he put himself in the running for the post, which would give him power to handpick the country's next president.
In results already in, Mbeki leads the race with nominations from North West, Western Cape, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape. Zuma has the nod from Mpumalanga and Free State, an ANC spokesperson said.
He said nominations from other provinces would trickle in during the day and the final results would be in by Monday.
Zuma has portrayed himself as a man of the people, enjoying wide support from powerful unions and the ANC rank-and-file.
Mbeki is seen as a consummate political tactician inside his ruling ANC but has been accused of stifling dissent. His pro-business policies are credited with yielding one of the most prosperous eras in South Africa's history.