President Jacob Zuma went off-script on Thursday night when he said on radio that there was no tradition in the African National Congress (ANC) that the deputy president should succeed the president. This has been seen as an indication that he wants AU chairperson and ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to succeed him.
It also flies in the face of the party's decision not to discuss personalities until there is broad agreement on the values and characteristics that the next party leader should have. Zuma's comments could be seen as a broadside against ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe, who on Wednesday said the succession tradition does indeed exist.
Zuma was talking to listeners on three SABC radio stations -- Motsweding FM, Lesedi FM and Thobela FM.
According to The Times, Zuma said it was not true that there was a policy that the deputy president should succeed the president, and added it was coincidence that Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki were succeeded by their deputies. "It was an accident of history."
Zuma's supporters in 2006 and 2007, at the height of the political struggle between him and Mbeki, heavily relied on this argument, saying Mbeki was trying to undercut ANC traditions and customs by trying to prevent Zuma from becoming president. Cosatu, the SACP and the leagues campaigned that policy dictates Zuma should follow Mbeki.
This position was reiterated by Mantashe earlier this week, saying the deputy president is appointed with a view to succeed the president. "When you elect a deputy president you should have succession in mind. Once you have a deputy and you elect someone else, you ask yourself difficult questions: is this deputy not competent enough to be the successor?" he told Business Day.
Zuma, according to The Star, said: "There's nothing that says once you are deputy president then it's a foregone conclusion. I'm just saying it's not a policy, it's not even an accepted tradition."
He added anyone can stand for the position if they are in good standing in the party.
News24 reported Zuma also said there was nothing wrong with a Zuma succeeding a Zuma, and that his former wife was in the struggle long before they got married. He ran through her list of achievements and said there was "no question at all" about her abilities as a leader.
* The original headline on this story said the president wanted Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to succeed him. He implied this but did not say it directly. This was amended on Friday, 13 January.