THE African National Congress (ANC) in President Jacob Zuma’s home province, KwaZulu-Natal, on Sunday night chose businessman Cyril Ramaphosa as its candidate for deputy president ahead of next month’s Mangaung conference.

The decision, which will be widely seen as a snub to Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, sets the stage for a showdown between Mr Zuma and Mr Motlanthe, who is being touted as a future ANC leader by those frustrated with the scandals dogging the president and the ANC.

As a prominent businessman and former trade union leader, Mr Ramaphosa may boost the Zuma ticket’s credibility, especially in areas of attracting foreign investment and economic policy.

Last week, Mr Motlanthe won the endorsement of the ANC Youth League.

Mr Zuma easily secured the provincial nomination, giving him backing of 800 branches, which will be decisive at Mangaung.

Secretary-general Gwede Mantashe’s nomination was also uncontested, with national chairwoman Baleka Mbete nominated to retain her position. Longstanding party spokeswoman Jessie Duarte was put forward as deputy secretary-general and KwaZulu-Natal chairman Zweli Mkhize was chosen for treasurer-general, provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala said. Mr Zikalala said the conference was characterised by "frankness, robustness, vivacity and a comradely spirit".

He said the party believed that any difference in direction the ANC would take after Mangaung would depend on the discussions to resolve issues plaguing the country, and not on the faces of the leadership to be elected.

Sources said that prior to the voting on Sunday, a debate was held on the merits of Mr Motlanthe and Mr Ramaphosa for the position of deputy president.

Mr Mkhize said on Saturday that while the party leadership elections would be an important part of the Mangaung conference, the economy and "where the jobs will come from" would be high on the agenda.

He said policy issues to be discussed at Mangaung included the mining sector after Marikana, the "mixed economy" — a mixture of private sector and state intervention, the endorsement by the ANC of the 30-year National Development Plan, and the government infrastructure programme.

Labour instability, crime and how to deal with corruption, issues about education and health, including the roll-out of the National Health Insurance scheme, and gender issues were also likely to be discussed, he said. "Mangaung must show us what programme we will embark on to fight corruption," he said.

He said the conference should also not create expectations that were too high, because SA and many other countries were tackling recession-like economic conditions, on top of inequality, poverty and unemployment.

South African Communist Party secretary-general Blade Nzimande urged delegates to "choose wisely" when deciding on a leader, saying the ANC was the only party capable of building a nonracial, nonsexist society.

Mr Nzimande said "majority rule" needed to be defended, because "you can’t have people losing elections and wanting to rule the country from the courts and from the graves".

Mr Nzimande said SA’s media, with a few exceptions, had lost all "pretence of being objective" when reporting about the ANC.

"You can’t have a negative headline ... for 12 months and say you are objective," he said.

Mr Mkhize said the Mangaung conference should aim to "bring back the integrity of the ANC."