President Jacob Zuma Picture: Elmond Jiyane/GCIS
Johannesburg – Backers of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s bid to become ANC leader – and ultimately the country – received a major boost on Thursday night when President Jacob Zuma declared that the party was “ready for a woman president”.

The move, seen as Zuma anointing Dlamini-Zuma as his likely successor, could plunge the ANC into further succession controversy and mark the start of serious contestation within the party to replace the outgoing leader.

Zuma on Wednesday told listeners of Ukhozi FM that he wasn’t going for a third term, ending speculation about his future.

On Thursday night on three SABC radio stations, with a combined listenership of 10 million, Zuma appeared to endorse Dlamini-Zuma, and dismissed talk that it was tradition in the ANC for a deputy president to automatically replace the president when he leaves.

This could be the clearest indication yet that Zuma will go with the ANC Women's League, Youth League and others who have already endorsed Dlamini-Zuma.

Responding to a question whether the ANC or the country was ready for a woman president, Zuma replied: “I think it is. The ANC has laid the charge insofar as promoting the empowerment of women, and they are in very key leadership outside of the government. In the ANC it is no longer an issue. It has been accepted they can hold any kind of position.”

He said the issue of a woman occupying a key position within the ANC was not new. “The matter was raised during the Polokwane conference in 2007. Women wanted to occupy the position of deputy president during that conference but did not succeed,” he said.

When a caller asked why Dlamini-Zuma – the outgoing AU Commission chairperson – should be considered for the job, Zuma said she had the qualities to lead.

“Nkosazana has been struggling even before she was a Zuma, she’s been struggling from her student days, and she’s held a number of positions. She’s been a minister, there’s no question at all. If the ANC says we think we can give you this responsibility and she agrees, that’s not a concern at all. Not at all, insofar as the Zuma family is concerned,” he said.

Adding to the controversy, Zuma told millions of listeners it wasn't ANC tradition that the deputy president would automatically become president.

“There’s nothing that says once you’re deputy president then it’s a foregone conclusion. I’m just saying it’s not a policy; it’s not even an accepted tradition.

“The ANC is a democratic organisation. Any person who is a member in good standing, and other comrades propose that person to become president, he has a right, whether he has been deputy president or not. It is not an issue.

“Although it has happened before, not because it is dictated by policy, it has happened because those people who might have come one after the other might have fitted It’s an accident of history. Anyone has a right to stand. If he’s fit for that position and in good standing, he can be nominated,” Zuma said.

He was adamant that it was not the tradition of the ANC for deputy presidents to replace the incumbent, saying it was not ANC policy.

“There’s no policy, it’s not true that it's a tradition. People say it has happened on a number of occasions where the deputy president becomes president. That’s not a tradition. It is the way people motivate for the names that they want,” he said.

Asked to comment on Zuma’s statement, ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said he did not listen to the radio interview.

Political analyst Professor Somadoda Fikeni described Zuma’s readiness for an ANC woman president as a “diplomatic answer”, saying he might be supporting a principle.

“It's a signal that he was inclined to support a woman and that he was likely to throw his weight behind a woman,” he said.

However, Fikeni warned that Zuma’s endorsement was likely to lead to the ANC’s leagues also making pronouncements on their preferred candidates.

“It's going to be difficult for the ANC to stop them from making any pronouncements,” he said.

The Star