South African President Jacob Zuma warned that "factionalism" within the ruling African National Congress (ANC) threatened to tear apart the party as it began a five-day conference outside Johannesburg on Saturday to elect a new leader.
"Petty squabbling that takes us nowhere needs to take a back seat, our people are frustrated when we spend more time fighting among ourselves instead of solving the daily challenges they experience," he said in a keynote speech to the conference. "Factionalism has become the biggest threat to our movement."
Zuma, who has led the ANC since 2007, will step down as party boss at the end of the conference. He will still serve out the rest of his second term as president until elections are held in 2019.
The ANC is expected to announce his successor on Sunday. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has been favored by financial markets while Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, ex-cabinet minister and Zuma's ex-wife, has the president's backing.
A court ruling on Saturday determined that some senior officials from provinces seen as supporting Dlamini-Zuma had been elected illegally and were barred from the conference. The ANC's executive committee met before the conference and decided the 122 delegates could not vote at the conference. A total of about 6,000 delegates will vote.
The 75-year-old's presidency has been marked by a number of corruption scandals, which has drained support for the movement that Nelson Mandela led to victory in the 1994 elections that ended white minority rule.
Zuma highlighted warnings that the ANC could "implode" and said "greed is posing a serious threat" to the party. But he also said that the "theft and corruption" in the private sector were also bad.
The ANC's poor performance in local elections last year "were a stark reminder that our people are not happy with the state of the ANC," Zuma said.
The High Court ruled last week that Zuma must set up a judicial inquiry into influence peddling within 30 days.
cw/jm (AFP, AP)