The embattled South African President Jacob Zuma who has been implicated in a series of corruption scandals, has endorsed ex-wife and former African Union Commission (AU) Chairperson Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as the next leader of the ruling party the African National Congress (ANC). The endorsement has been sharply criticized and the battle lines over  Zuma’s successor have been clearly drawn

President Zuma’s term ends in 2019 and he has led the ANC since 2007. The party is sharply divided and Zuma has been facing credibility issues. The party is expected to hold a national delegates conference to pick the new ANC leader before general elections in 2019.

“She is bold and you can’t fool her. She is someone you can trust. She is very respected in Africa and it would be surprising why she would not be respected in South Africa,” Zuma said in comments reported by South Africa’s Times.

In his endorsement, President Zuma said Dlamini-Zuma is experienced with many distinctive qualifications that make her the best qualified candidate to lead the ANC. However, some critics within the ANC and the opposition have criticized the move and said Zuma’s preferred candidate Dr. Dlamini-Zuma who has four children with the President will just be capable of shielding her former husband from corruption charges when he leaves the office in 2019.

Read: 28th AU Summit: Promoting women’s rights the highlight of Dlamini Zuma’s legacy

The endorsement now brings two front-runners in the ANC succession politics, Dr. Dlamini-Zuma and the deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa. Dlamini-Zuma, who Zuma appointed as Home Affairs minister when he came to power in 2009, also had a transformative impact on the AU.

Even though, deputy president Ramaphosa has been always seen as the next person to succeed president Zuma, the endorsement now brings ANC a tight succession political battle. Ramaphosa has been receiving significant support in KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma’s traditional stronghold. Six of the 11 regions which are perceived as president Zuma’s strongholds are also reportedly backing Ramaphosa

A view of the controversial homestead of South African President Jacob Zuma in Nkandla on January 21, 2014. Photo: ANP/ AFP Marco Longari

Protests over Zuma’s presidency 

Recently, thousands of South Africans from the opposition parties, religious groups and civil society activists staged street protests demanding Zuma’s resignation due to his alleged involvement into several corrupt scandals and continuous allegations of incompetence. The protest began following the sacking of the widely respected Finance minister Pravin Gordhan.

Zuma has also been accused and found guilty by the South Africa’s highest court for having violated the constitution by using state funds to expand his private residence in Nkandla in the KwaZulu-Natal province.

Read: The upside to Zuma’s presidency

The president is still fighting a court order of about 800 corruption charges against him over a multi-billion dollar arms deal in the 1990s. However, following various scandalous allegations, the ANC has lost popularity, worsened by the failure to address slow economic growth, high unemployment and income inequalities.