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South African president says ANC ready for female leader

© AFP/File | Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who has four children with President Zuma, is a leading candidate to take office as president at the 2019 general election

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - 

South African President Jacob Zuma has said the ruling ANC party is ready for its first female leader, days after his former wife was named by the party's influential women's league as its choice to succeed him.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who has four children with President Zuma, is the head of the African Union Commission and a leading candidate to take office as president at the 2019 general election.

Zuma is expected to step down as African National Congress (ANC) party leader at the end of this year. His successor is likely to become national president at the election.

Dlamini-Zuma, 67, has not declared her candidacy, but the ANC women's league last weekend gave her a major boost by publicly declaring its support.

"It is no longer a discussion in the ANC whether a woman can take a high leadership position or not," Zuma said.

"The ANC is ready for that? in fact the party has been ready for some time.

"It will depend on the integrity that she possesses and whether members see her fit for the position."

Zuma, 74, who has been engulfed by corruption scandals and poor economic data since he came to power in 2009, completes the maximum two terms in office as national president in 2019.

In August, the ANC -- which came to power in 1994 under Nelson Mandela after the end of apartheid -- recorded its worst-ever election results at local polls.

Among Zuma's other possible successors are deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize.

Zuma survived an attempt by ANC rivals to oust him in November, shrugging off criticism of his conduct by the official anti-graft watchdog and the Constitutional Court.

Dlamini-Zuma is not seeking a second mandate at the African Union, a move that has increased speculation that she has ambitions to succeed her ex-husband at the ANC.

She has held a string of ministerial posts under South African presidents, including the foreign affairs and home minister portfolios.

Her four years at the head of the AU have given her an international profile which has further increased her status as an ANC heavyweight.

© 2017 AFP