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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Squabbles Embitter Contest to Lead South Africa's ANC

POLOKWANE, South Africa -- Impromptu rallies among African National Congress delegates Monday offered another glimpse of the unusually public and bitter contest over who will take over leadership of South Africa's ruling party -- and possibly of the country.

South African President Thabo Mbeki is expected to lose the party leadership to Jacob Zuma, the current party deputy president. Their rivalry has seen delegates to the party conference booing, singing partisan songs and challenging attempts by the old guard to keep the process decorous.

During decades as an underground movement fighting apartheid, the ANC prided itself on presenting a unified front -- the top party post had not been publicly contested in 55 years. That makes what elsewhere might seem the typical trappings of democracy seem shocking.

"The organization is going through deep strain," ANC spokesman Smuts Ngonyama said.

As the conference opened Sunday, delegates loyal to Zuma booed leaders seen as Mbeki allies, carried pictures of Zuma despite a ban on partisan displays, and called for national chairman Mosiuoa Lekota's removal. Zuma supporters broke into the anti-apartheid song "Bring me my machine gun," which has become Zuma's anthem, as soon as Mbeki had finished an address to the conference Sunday.

Speaking at a news conference, Jeff Radebe, a member of Mbeki's Cabinet and of the party's national executive committee, acknowledged that Sunday's atmosphere was not what "we are used to in the ANC."