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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 November 2007, 09:54 GMT
ANC women give Zuma further boost
Former South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma
Jacob Zuma's career looked to be over two years ago
The Women's League has become the latest ANC branch to back former Deputy President Jacob Zuma's bid to become leader of South Africa's ruling party.

Five provincial branches, as well as the Youth League, have already given him their support.

Only four branches are supporting President Thabo Mbeki ahead of the vote to be taken next month.

If Mr Zuma wins, he would be strong favourite to become South Africa's next president in 2009.

Mr Mbeki is standing down after two terms but if he remains ANC leader, he would be in a good position to decide who succeeded him as national leader.

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

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.

He was subsequently charged with rape but was acquitted.

His supporters say the charges were designed to sideline him from the leadership race.

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

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.

This is a rejection of Thabo Mbeki by the ANC
Xolela Mangcu
Political commentator
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 also enjoys the support of 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.

Compromise candidate

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.

The provincial nominations 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.

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.

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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