South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale, seen as a possible compromise candidate in the ruling ANC presidency race, said he expected Jacob Zuma to win the party contest and expressed confidence in his leadership.
ANC Deputy President Zuma is leading incumbent party and national President Thabo Mbeki ahead of an African National Congress conference next month to choose new leaders.
"When you look at the numbers, when you look at the trend ... The trend is that Jacob Zuma is likely to win this presidency," Sexwale told SAfm radio in an interview yesterday.
"I have no doubt about his leadership, I never questioned that. He was the deputy president of the country," Sexwale said.
If he wins the ANC presidency, Zuma is almost assured of being elected South Africa's president in 2009.
Mbeki said on Tuesday he was still in the race after Zuma won nominations from key party groups and in South Africa's provinces.
Analysts say Mbeki, who is not allowed to run for re-election as state president, wants to retain his ANC leadership to influence the country's politics and help pick his successor.
Mbeki fired Zuma as his deputy in 2005 after he was linked to allegations of corruption, triggering a fierce rivalry that has plunged the ANC into one of its worst crises in its history.
Zuma has made a dramatic political comeback since then, maintaining wide support from powerful trade unions, who accuse Mbeki of promoting big business and neglecting the poor.
Mbeki has vowed to both tackle widespread poverty and keep the country's economic boom going.
Sexwale's confidence in Zuma could ease concerns among investors that his association with left-leaning unions could steer him away from market-friendly policies.
Zuma secured nominations from five of nine provinces.
Although he won easily as expected in his powerbase KwaZulu-Natal province, Zuma gained an upset in South Africa's financial heartland, Gauteng province, receiving 263 branch nominations compared to Mbeki's 94.
The influential ANC Women's League backed Zuma in a tight vote on Monday, in a further blow to Mbeki who has pushed for more women in national leadership positions. The party's Youth League nominated Zuma in a separate vote last week.
Branch nominations are an important indicator of who may be ahead, but the race could take an unexpected turn if senior delegates disagree with branches in a secret ballot.
Source: China Daily/Agencies