South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is tipped to win re-election as the head of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) despite a cash-heist scandal and internal opposition.
South Africa's ruling ANC was due to elect a new leader this weekend after the country's embattled president, Cyril Ramaphosa, pitched to steer the party for a second term.
Despite a tarnishing cash-heist scandal and vociferous internal opposition, Ramaphosa, 70, is tipped to win re-election as the head of the African National Congress (ANC) at a five-day party conference that kicked off on Friday.
But after 28 years in power, the party shaped by Nelson Mandela to spearhead the struggle to end apartheid faces deep rifts and declining support.
In a three-hour-long address on Friday, Ramaphosa sought to project confidence and authority.
South Africans "expect us to have the courage and the honesty to recognise our shortcomings and the resolve to correct them," he told some 4,500 ANC delegates at an events centre near Johannesburg.
The conference was running well behind schedule on Saturday after starting several hours late the day before.
But party officials said voting was still expected to take place.
"Our delegates just have to understand that we may have to work for much longer than we had anticipated," said national spokesman Pule Mabe.
That caused some to grumble.
"It is extremely frustrating," one delegate from the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province who preferred not to give his name said of the delays.
Dozens of delegates, largely supporters of corruption-tainted former president Jacob Zuma who was forced out by Ramaphosa, heckled the current South African leader, chanting "Change! Change!" and banging on their tables.
"Let us exercise discipline, let us exercise political consciousness," Ramaphosa said, urging attendees to debate issues instead of "shouting" and "howling at each other".
READ MORE: South Africa's Ramaphosa will not stand down as head of ANC party
Rivalry amid leaders accused of corruption
Portraying himself as a graft-busting champion, Ramaphosa took control of the ANC in 2017 after his then-boss Zuma became mired in corruption allegations.
But his clean-hands image has been dented by accusations he concealed a huge cash burglary at his farm in 2020 rather than report it to the authorities.
Ramaphosa won a reprieve ahead of the conference when the ANC used its majority in parliament to block a possible impeachment inquiry.
He is still leading the list of only two nominated presidential candidates so far and is seen to be the most viable option to lead the 110-year-old party.
"The president's term came with a lot of challenges like Covid-19, and he has really tried to pull through," said ANC delegate Mike Mtsweni, 28.
"He is going to come back as the (party) president".
Ramaphosa's rival is his former health minister Zweli Mkhize, who is facing corruption allegations linked to Covid-19 funds.
An ex-trade unionist, Ramaphosa fronted the historic negotiations to end apartheid in 1994 and helped draft the constitution -- hailed as one of Africa's most progressive charters.
On Friday, he was captured on camera laughing and shaking hands with Zuma, who is leading internal opposition to his rule.
Earlier, Zuma had made a grand entrance in the conference hall just as Ramaphosa began delivering his speech, forcing the president to pause briefly.
On the eve of the conference, Zuma announced he was seeking to sue Ramaphosa over a leaked medical report linked to a corruption trial involving him in the 1990s.
But the action is unlikely to hamper Ramaphosa's chances of securing a second term as ANC chief.
The ANC remains South Africa's largest party.
READ MORE: South Africa's Ramaphosa survives parliament impeachment vote