utgoing chairperson of the ANC, Baleka Mbete, has endorsed Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to take over from Jacob Zuma as ANC president.
"What we are announcing is that we publicly endorse comrade Cyril Ramaphosa. That we have been talking and we agree on how to approach the issues of maximising unity in the organisation, in particular moving towards [the national general elections in] 2019," she said speaking to journalists in Nasrec, Johannesburg on the sidelines of the ANC's 54th national conference on Saturday night.
Mbete said she supported Ramaphosa because she shares a number of ideas with him on issues affecting the party and how to resolve them.
"Because we have worked together for a long time and in how we have discussed the issues that are faced and the challenges that are faced by the movement and South Africa, we have agreed a whole lot more."
There was never an opportunity to discuss the same issues with her (Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma),” said Mbete.
Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma are seen as front-runners in the race to succeed Zuma.
Mbete had joined the leadership contest as part of the seven candidates vying for the top job, but she has now given up on her campaign.
When Mbete was asked if she feared being criticised for not supporting a woman candidate, she said she did not.
“As we are here, we are here as cadres of the African National Congress who have something to contribute. And I’m sure that we will work together with comrade Nkosazana and each and every other candidate.”
Asked on Ramaphosa's chances, Mbete said it "does look positive" and said she thought that "unity was paramount" at the conference.
"Therefore, part of what this is is about giving meaning to unity so that we don't talk unity that has no meaning. But we talk unity that is practically going to give us something more tangible."
Delegates at the conference are expected to vote for their preferred top six leaders and national executive committee (NEC) members. The conference will also examine and come up with new policies ahead of the 2019 general elections.
On Saturday, the ANC postponed the contentious issue of credentials to Sunday amid a NEC decision to bar some delegates from voting.
Earlier the conference was delayed for at least eight hours as the ANC NEC held an impromptu meeting to iron out the contentious court judgments and decided to exclude KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, and North West’s Bojanala district from voting at the conference. The leadership of these regions have had to contend with court challenges brought by disgruntled members.
The second day of the conference will commence with a business breakfast session. Delegates are expected to be in the plenary by 9am.