More than 4,000 ANC delegates erupted into wild cheers when President Jacob Zuma, a polygamous Zulu traditionalist who's been dogged by personal scandal, was reconfirmed for the top spot.
BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa — South Africa's ruling African National Congress re-elected President Jacob Zuma as its leader Tuesday, setting him up for seven more years as head of state of Africa's biggest economy.
The 100-year-old liberation movement also chose respected businessman Cyril Ramaphosa as his deputy, seeking to repair the battered image of a Zuma government that has been hit by a string of corruption scandals and shaky handling of the economy.
More than 4,000 ANC delegates crammed into a marquee in the central city of Bloemfontein erupted into wild cheers when Zuma was confirmed in the top party post after comfortably seeing off a challenge by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.
Given the ANC's dominance at the ballot-box less than two decades after the end of apartheid, 70-year-old Zuma is virtually assured a second, five-year term as president of South Africa in 2014 elections.
The rand briefly edged higher against the dollar after the announcement, reflecting relief among investors at the prospects of policies remaining largely unchanged under Zuma.
After the vote, the beaming president, who secured 2,995 votes out of 3,977 cast, walked on stage to shake hands with fellow ANC "comrades" — a label reflecting the ANC's roots in the communist-backed struggle against decades of white-minority rule.
Zuma, a polygamous Zulu traditionalist, came to power in 2009 amid the first recession in 18 years and has had a checkered economic record, culminating in violent labor unrest in the mines this year that triggered two ratings downgrades.
He has also been dogged by personal scandals, including fathering a child by the daughter of a close friend, but his popularity within Nelson Mandela's ANC is overwhelming.
"I don't care what people say about Jacob Zuma," said Sinovuyo Kley, an ANC delegate from the impoverished Eastern Cape. "When you hear him sing, you know he is one with the people. He speaks our language and knows our struggles."
Since Zuma's re-election had looked likely for much of the year, the main talking point of the five-day Bloemfontein conference was the political renaissance of Ramaphosa after a decade-long absence to focus on his business interests.
Attention was also diverted by the arrest of four alleged white extremists for plotting to bomb the meeting and kill Zuma and top ministers as part of a plan to carve an independent Afrikaner state out of Mandela's "Rainbow Nation."
Having risen to prominence as a charismatic union leader in the 1980s, Ramaphosa became the ANC's main negotiator in the talks that led to historic all-race elections in 1994 and Mandela's appointment as South Africa's first black president.
He was also tipped as a possible successor to the revered Mandela — now 94 and recovering in a hospital from a lung infection and gallstone removal — but gradually removed himself from politics when the job went to ANC stalwart Thabo Mbeki in 1999.
Analysts said Ramaphosa's inclusion in Zuma's inner circle should help the government push through plans to lift South Africa's long-term economic growth and stop its competitive slide against fast-growing economies in Asia and South America.
"Ramaphosa's history as an ANC traditionalist, powerful negotiator and successful businessman lends to an expectation that he will do well at managing the implementation of economic policies," said Citi economist Gina Schoeman.
On the conference floor in Bloemfontein, the hopes were expressed more simply.
"With a man like Cyril, our country is going to be booming. Our economy is going to be tops," said Peter Rankoe, an ANC delegate from the northern province of Limpopo.
(Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz and Stella Mapenzauswa, writing by Ed Cropley)
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