Pictures: Mike Hutchings/Reuters and Antoine de Ras/The Star

Johannesburg — The race to lead South Africa's scandal-weakened ruling party, and likely the country, has put the future of the African National Congress in question. The rift between the top candidates is so pronounced that some observers warn the party could split in two. 

Here's a look at the leading contenders to succeed President Jacob Zuma and lead the party toward the 2019 elections:

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Reuters

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa

One of South Africa's richest businessmen, the 65-year-old Ramaphosa is a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle and helped negotiate the transition to democracy. He turned his connections as a former union leader into business ventures that at times have proven controversial. Ramaphosa was a board member of the Lonmin mine at the time of the Marikana massacre in 2012, when police shot dead 34 striking mine workers.

Now deputy president, Ramaphosa has added his voice to the rising frustration in the country over Zuma and numerous corruption allegations. Last week, he even told a local radio station that he "would believe" the young woman who accused Zuma of rape more than a decade ago, before he became president. Zuma was acquitted.

Despite being part of Zuma's administration, Ramaphosa has styled himself as a reform candidate who would steer South Africa away from the corruption scandals that have hurt the economy and briefly sent it into recession this year.

ANC presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma Picture: Karen Sandison/ANA

Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma

The former chair of the African Union Commission is also Zuma's ex-wife, which brings concern from some who worry that she will act under the president's influence and perhaps even shield him from possible prosecution.

The 68-year-old Dlamini Zuma is a doctor and former minister of health and of foreign affairs, and was an activist during the ANC's long fight against apartheid. She was the first female leader of the AU Commission. Dlamini Zuma is expected to have the support of the ANC Women's League, which has been a fierce supporter of the president.

Dlamini-Zuma, who has a reputation for rarely engaging the media and staying conservative in her public statements, recently was appointed to a parliamentary seat. She has pledged to pursue her ex-husband's favored policy of "radical economic transformation" to bring greater equity to an economy still largely controlled by South Africa's white minority.

Associated Press