Former health minister Zweli Mkhize is eagerly polishing his bid to beat South Africa’s scandal-troubled President Cyril Ramaphosa in elections next week of the ruling ANC.

Mkhize has long been cast in the role of underdog in the race to be president of the African National Congress (ANC) party — a job that opens the way to being head of state.

“The president says he’s innocent and no one has reason to doubt that,” Mkhize said in an interview with AFP, one of a string he conducted with the media ahead of the December 16 ballot.

The 70-year-old president’s political future is in doubt over accusations that he covered up the theft of a huge amount of cash at his farm instead of reporting the matter to the police.

The 70-year-old president’s political future is in doubt over accusations that he covered up the theft of a huge amount of cash at his farm instead of reporting the matter to the police.

Ramaphosa, in submissions to a three-person investigative panel, denied any wrongdoing. He rather said the cash was payment for buffaloes bought by a Sudanese businessman.

The ANC’s paramount National Executive Committee rallied around the beleaguered president, announcing that any such move would be opposed. Mkhize was deeply critical of that meeting.

“I wasn’t able to speak,” Mkhize said. “The way they ran the meeting was a very unusual, weird way.”

“Whilst in the middle and people were still supposed to speak, they decided to close the meeting and say, ‘Now we have an agreement,’ and closed. I stood up and objected.”

“It creates an impression that the views of certain members must be muzzled,” he added.

Mkhize conducted his media blitz at a rented house in the Johannesburg suburbs, with a garden and swimming pool visible behind large bay windows.

Between interviews, he wondered whether he should change ties. His assistant held out several for him to choose from, all in the green, yellow and black of the ANC.

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