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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 November 2007, 02:37 GMT
Zuma ahead in ANC president race
Former South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma
Jacob Zuma is seen as less business friendly than Mbeki
South Africa's former Deputy President Jacob Zuma is building strong support for his bid to become the next leader of the African National Congress (ANC).

His nomination has been backed by party branches in five out of nine provinces, and also by the ANC's Women's League.

Mr Zuma is leaving his rival, President Thabo Mbeki, trailing well behind.

These votes are not binding but are the strongest indication yet of which way delegates will turn in the formal vote at the ANC conference next month.

Mr Zuma's comeback has confounded the commentators who wrote off his chances of further political success after he was sacked as deputy leader in 2005 amid allegations of corruption and rape charges.

His supporters say the charges, of which he was acquitted, were designed to sideline him from the leadership race.

The corruption trial was stopped but charges may be brought once more.

Winning the party leadership would make him the favourite to become South Africa's president in 2009.

Strong showing

The Women's League's decision to back Mr Zuma contradicts a resolution it passed earlier this year that a woman should be elected ANC president at the party's conference next month.

JACOB ZUMA
Top figure in fight against apartheid
Seen as less business-friendly than Mbeki
Sacked as deputy president in 2005
Corruption trial stopped
Acquitted on rape charges

The weekend's provincial results gave Mr Zuma 2,270 votes while 1,396 went to Mr Mbeki, said 702 Talk Radio.

The biggest upset was in Gauteng province - home to South Africa's commercial capital, Johannesburg - where Mr Zuma got 263 votes against 94 for the current president.

In his home province of KwaZulu-Natal, he got 580 votes to Mr Mbeki's nine, reported the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).

The provinces of Mpumalanga, Free State and Northern Cape have backed Mr Zuma, who already enjoys the support of the ANC Youth League and the powerful Confederation of South African Trades Unions (Cosatu).

Mr Mbeki has so far won nominations from the Eastern and Western Cape, Limpopo and the North West.

Mbeki 'rejected'

Analysts say these results are bad news for Mr Mbeki.

"This is a rejection of Thabo Mbeki by the ANC," said Pretoria-based political commentator Xolela Mangcu, according to the AFP news agency.

According to Susan Booysen of Johannesburg's Wits University: "I can't see how this cannot be the end of Mbeki's candidacy."

The BBC's Peter Greste in Johannesburg says the ANC has rarely faced a leadership contest as divisive as this one.

Everything rests on the result of the secret ballot of some 4,000 ANC voting delegates at the 16-20 December conference in the town of Polokwane, he says.

If there is deadlock, our correspondent says it will open up the possibility of a compromise candidate, such as Cyril Ramaphosa or Tokyo Sexwale, around whom the ANC can unite.

Mr Mbeki is stepping down as national leader in 2009 after serving the legal limit of two terms, but observers say remaining ANC leader would leave him in a strong position to decide who becomes South Africa's next president.

Some ANC supporters and officials say that while Mr Zuma is seen as a champion of workers' rights, Mr Mbeki is too business-friendly.

They want the government to do more to help the poor;

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