From: Reuters
Published December 16, 2007 04:16 AM

Mbeki supporters heckled at South African ANC congress

By Paul Simao

POLOKWANE, South Africa (Reuters) - Ministers and aides in South African President Thabo Mbeki's government were heckled by delegates on Sunday when the ruling ANC opened a congress that could see Mbeki losing control over the party.

South Africa's African National Congress is expected to choose a new leader at the conference.

Some of the 4,000 delegates booed Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma, Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and Essop Pahad, a top aide to Mbeki, as they arrived.

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Supporters of ANC Deputy President Jacob Zuma, who hopes to unseat Mbeki as leader of the party, were cheered, including ANC Secretary General Kgalema Motlante.

The leadership race has produced some of the worst divisions in the ANC since the end of apartheid in 1994, pitting Mbeki against Zuma. If Zuma wins, he is almost certain to become South African president in 2009.

Zuma, a populist who was fired by Mbeki after being linked to a corruption scandal, is going into the leadership vote with significant lead, having nearly doubled Mbeki in party branch nominations in the lead-up to the congress.

The 65-year-old Zuma also has been endorsed by the ANC's women's and youth leagues as well as by the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), which is in a formal governing alliance with the ANC.

Members of the South African Communist Party, also in the governing coalition, have thrown their support behind Zuma with many saying they believe he will reverse Mbeki's centrist policies and tilt the country to the left.

Mbeki, who took over the party from Nelson Mandela in 1997 and then the country two years later, is running for a third term as ANC leader, a position that would give him a big say over who becomes the ANC presidential candidate in 2009.

The South African leader is barred by the country's constitution from seeking another term as state president.

(Reporting by Paul Simao, Phumza Macanda, Ron Derby and Bate Felix; writing by Marius Bosch and Mike Georgy; editing by Elizabeth Piper)

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