JOHANNESBURG — South Africa's deputy president is being urged to challenge President Jacob Zuma for the leadership of the ruling party, the African National Congress.
Kgalema Motlanthe, dubbed Mr. Zuma's "silent opponent" in the South African press, has not announced his candidacy for the ANC's top spot, which will be decided at a conference in late December. The ANC leader will be the party's candidate for president in the 2014 national election, and such is the strength of Nelson Mandela's party that the ANC candidate is virtually assured victory.
Mr. Motlanthe is being urged to get off the fence and actively challenge Mr. Zuma.
"We have to restore the dignity of the ANC," ANC Youth League Deputy President Ronald Lamola said at a rally Mr. Motlanthe rally attended Saturday, according to the local newspaper, The Sunday Independent.
A new biography of Mr. Motlanthe has sparked conjecture that he may challenge Mr. Zuma, who is facing persistent criticism of his leadership of the ANC.
The authorized biography portrays Mr. Motlanthe as someone who could rescue the ANC's credibility in the eyes of those who are disappointed with the party's failure to stem social inequality despite the country's considerable natural wealth. But the book also suggests that he may not have the aggressive political instincts needed to battle Mr. Zuma.
Mr. Motlanthe is not a well-known figure internationally, but he has already served as South Africa's president. He was a caretaker president in 2008 after the ouster of former President Thabo Mbeki.
Political analysts question whether Mr. Zuma, 70, will face a serious challenge from his deputy. Some think Mr. Motlanthe, 63, has a fair chance, after what many see as Mr. Zuma's poor handling of labor unrest in South Africa's crucial mining sector.
The new biography, "Kgalema Motlanthe," by Ebrahim Harvey, comes out barely two months before ANC members gather for a crucial conference to select a new leader for the party. The biography will help South Africans better understand Mr. Motlanthe, said Shadrack Gutto, a professor of African renaissance studies at the University of South Africa.
Mr. Motlanthe came to be the temporary president of South Africa in 2008, when Mr. Mbeki resigned after he was ousted as the leader of the ANC. Mr. Motlanthe was president of South Africa for nearly eight months, from Sept. 2008 to May 2009, after which Mr. Zuma took charge. Mr. Motlanthe was widely credited with offering measured, sober leadership in those months, according to his biographer.