(Bloomberg) -- South Africa’s justice minister fired the latest salvo in a war of words between those who want President Cyril Ramaphosa to remain the ruling party’s head and those who want him ousted in December at a conference where its members will vote on senior leadership positions.

Minister Ronald Lamola, a Ramaphosa ally, unleashed a verbal attack on Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who is seen as positioning herself as a leader of an opposing wing of the African National Congress. 

He was responding to Sisulu’s recent criticism that the nation’s top judges are “mentally colonized.” Lamola said her comments could not be passed off as debate but as an attack on “the very institution that is to uphold the constitution” and goes against the grain of everything that the ANC wanted to change before the nation’s first democratic elections in 1994. 

Sisulu appears to be aligning herself with the wing of the party loyal to former President Jacob Zuma. That group has opposed Ramaphosa’s attempts to implement political and economic reforms and crack down on graft, which plagued Zuma’s time in office. 

 

Key to Ramaphosa’s drive to renew the party after nine years of scandal under Zuma’s tenure is respect for the rule of law and the rebuilding of the institutions that underpin the constitution. Persistent attacks on the judiciary and a drumbeat of corruption scandals under Zuma undermined business confidence.  

Zuma faces a trial over corruption charges linked to a 1990s arms deal and was last year sentenced by the Constitutional Court to 15 months in jail for refusing to testify at an inquiry into state corruption that the government said saw 500 billion rand ($32 billion) stolen during his rule. His imprisonment sparked riots that triggered the worst violence since the end of apartheid, with more than 350 people killed. He is currently appealing an order to return to jail after his release on medical parole was ruled invalid.

While no one has formally announced the intention to run for party president in December, Ramaphosa is expected to seek a second term.

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