Mbeki is done as ANC leader ANC conference jeers Mbeki as Zuma gains upper hand in leadership battle Chris McGreal in Polokwane Monday December 17, 2007 The Guardian The South African president, Thabo Mbeki, was jeered and humiliated yesterday as he made a last-ditch attempt to retain control of the ruling African National Congress in the party's most bitter leadership election since it came to power 13 years ago. Supporters of Mbeki's arch-rival, Jacob Zuma, dominated the opening of the ANC conference, exuding confidence that victory was certain as more than half of the 4,000 delegates were on their feet singing for Zuma and demanding that Mbeki go. The president's supporters mostly sat in glum silence, apparently no longer able to muster the belief that their man can keep control of the party. Delegates were scheduled to vote yesterday evening and a result was expected today. But the divisions in the party were evident as soon as the conference opened, when Zuma's supporters objected to an electronic count of the vote on the grounds that it could be rigged. Mbeki is constitutionally obliged to step down as South Africa's president at the 2009 general election but there is no legal obstacle to him remaining party leader, which would give him considerable sway over who the ANC chose as its presidential candidate. Some of Zuma's support is drawn from those in the party who say Mbeki has centralised and misused power, and that it would be damaging to democracy for him to stay on. Mbeki opened the conference with a speech that mixed what he regards as his achievements in running a stable economy and poverty alleviation with thinly veiled attacks on Zuma, who is likely to face corruption charges for allegedly accepting bribes from a French arms company. Mbeki alluded to the accusations by suggesting that the ANC has "gravitated away from its moral axis" and calling for a leadership "seized by ethical fervour". Mbeki condemned "patronage and lust for power" which drew derision from some of his opponents, who accuse him of both. There were jeers when he denied centralising power or abusing his office to pursue opponents. But the clearest sign of his waning power came immediately after the speech when the audience erupted at the mention of Zuma's name and sang and danced in support of their candidate. Mbeki sat stunned on the podium and the party leadership made a futile effort to stop the show of support for Zuma. In a show of disrespect unusual in the ANC, delegates also booed some of Mbeki's closest allies as they arrived. But while Zuma had the upper hand at the conference, he was under renewed pressure over corruption allegations after the South African Broadcasting Corporation revealed that prosecutors had submitted an affidavit to the constitutional court alleging that as South Africa's deputy president he took payments totalling 4m rand (£285,000) over 10 years from a French weapons company. Zuma has asked the court to invalidate search warrants used to seize documents central to the investigation. If he loses that case, he is likely to face corruption charges that would probably block his attempts to become the country's next president. But Zuma's supporters said that the timing of the revelations and the source, because the SABC is widely viewed as an Mbeki mouthpiece, showed that they were politically motivated. "Allegations don't mean the man is guilty until the court says the person is guilty," Zuma told the SABC. "If I'm taken to court and the judge says 'Zuma, we find you guilty', as I walk out of court I will say to the ANC 'I'm stepping down'."