Africa Union

ANC conference: South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa heckled

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By Pumza Fihlani & Damian ZaneBBC News, Johannesburg & London

Heckled at his party conference and facing a possible legal case from his predecessor, South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa is under pressure.

He is running for re-election as leader of the governing party, which is divided by his rivalry with former President Jacob Zuma.

This week Mr Ramaphosa has already survived an attempt to impeach him.

ANC MPs rallied round him to present a near-united front, but the atmosphere at the conference seems less forgiving.

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The president got a taste of the challenge facing him when delegates in Johannesburg started shouting "change, change" as he was speaking.

Mr Zuma walked in to loud cheers, further disrupting Mr Ramaphosa's speech. Delegates from the ex-president's home province of KwaZulu-Natal then started singing anti-Ramaphosa songs as he tried to continue with his address.

South Africa is currently facing numerous problems including high unemployment and an irregular electricity supply, and in his speech the president did acknowledge some of the difficulties.

"The levels of poverty continue to give rise to a sense of hopelessness amongst our people," he is quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

He did, however, say that things were changing for the better adding: "I do believe better days lie ahead."

Mr Ramaphosa became president in 2018 after Mr Zuma was forced to resign amid numerous allegations of corruption, all of which he denied.

In recent months, however, the president has faced his own scandal. It involved an alleged cover up of the theft of a large sum of foreign currency that had been hidden in a sofa at his private farm.

An independent report commissioned by the speaker of parliament said Mr Ramaphosa may have broken the law but he has denied any wrongdoing.

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On Tuesday, ANC MPs were instructed to back the president and vote down an attempt to start an impeachment process. Only a handful defied the whip, but Mr Zuma's latest action of launching a private prosecution against the president might undermine efforts to bring the party together.

His anger over being replaced has now spilled out into this attempt to take Mr Ramaphosa to court.

He alleges that the president was an "accessory after the fact" to a breach of the National Prosecuting Authority Act.

The case concerns whether details of Mr Zuma's medical condition were improperly shared.

Mr Zuma alleges that the president failed to act against the people accused of revealing details about his health.

The president rejected the accusation with the "utmost contempt" and said it had not been made according to the law, according to a statement on Twitter.

The BBC has been unable to get comment from the National Prosecuting Authority.

This lawsuit is likely to exacerbate divisions between the pro-Ramaphosa and pro-Zuma camps in the ANC, who are both jostling for influence within the party and in government.

Mr Zuma has made no secret of his contempt for the president, a grudge that has been simmering since he was forced to step down.

In recent months, Mr Zuma been increasingly critical of the president's leadership. Making disparaging remarks is one thing but the attempt at a private prosecution has certainly turned up the heat, not least because of the timing.

But private prosecutions, which are unfamiliar territory for many in South Africa, are not a simple matter.

Very few are successful and they are often a lengthy and expensive process.

Mr Ramaphosa's other challenge is the fall-out from the report on his handling of the burglary at his farm.

Although he survived the vote in parliament, the report is expected to be discussed at the ANC gathering. Its leaders will decide whether to reject its recommendations or act on them.

One thing is clear – it will not be business as usual for Mr Ramaphosa at this year's meeting.

He has stepped into the conference a bruised man.

Additional reporting by Nomsa Maseko in Johannesburg

Artmotion S.Africa

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