JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African veteran politician and anti-apartheid activist Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said on Tuesday it was “offensive” to suggest her ex-husband, President Jacob Zuma, would have a hand in promoting her political career.
Zuma, 75, will step down as head of the ruling African National Congress at a conference in December. He can remain head of state until a 2019 election, although some analysts think he will hand over before then to whoever becomes the new ANC leader.
Dlamini-Zuma, 68, former head of the African Union and a cabinet minister under Nelson Mandela, has not officially said she will run for the ANC presidency, but she has not denied it.
And she increasingly acts like a leadership contender even though the ANC bans campaigning until candidates have been officially nominated next month.
The former health and foreign affairs minister, who does not currently hold a top position, spoke to business leaders in Johannesburg about her vision for South Africa, calling for changes to fix everything from the economy to inequality.
Flanked by bodyguards, she avoided questions about the prospect of running for the ANC presidency and reacted angrily when asked if Zuma would give her chances a boost.
“I find it offensive,” she said, in reply to a reporter’s question.
“I will not be elected by President Jacob Zuma. If I’m elected, I will be elected by South Africans.”
Zuma, who has four children with his former wife, has endorsed her to lead the ANC and she is therefore expected to benefit from his powerful party base.
Dlamini-Zuma’s main opponent is expected to be Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, a trade unionist-turned-business tycoon who many investors would prefer to see running a country in economic turmoil.
Ramaphosa, who was once Mandela’s chosen successor, has spoken of the need for the ANC to clean up its image so it can win back millions of voters who have switched allegiance during Zuma’s scandal-plagued decade in power.
Dlamini-Zuma is pushing for a more radical redistribution of wealth from whites to blacks, a policy that appeals to many poor people who resent the stark racial inequality that still persists 23 years after the end of apartheid.
The ANC has won every election since the end of white-minority rule in 1994. But analysts say unless its next leader mends party divides and turns around the economy, the party could lose to an opposition coalition in 2019.