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South Africa's Jacob Zuma sings for Mandela at ANC convention in Mangaung

President Jacob Zuma opened the ANC's five-yearly elective conference by leading 4,500 delegates in a struggle song about Nelson Mandela, who is still in hospital.

Zuma motlanthe mangaung 20121217Enlarge
South African President Jacob Zuma tands alongside his deputy ANC president Kgalema Motlanthe during the opening ceremony of the 53rd National Conference of the African National Congress (ANC) on December 16, 2012, in Bloemfontein. South Africa's ruling ANC kicked off what promises to be a contentious five-yearly party conference today, with embattled President Jacob Zuma facing a leadership challenge from his deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe. The five day conference, which will go a long way toward deciding who will lead South Africa until the end of the decade. Motlanthe is hoping to wrest control of the party from Zuma. Should he succeed, the ANC's commanding electoral standing means he is almost certain to become the country's next president. (STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images)

BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa — With Nelson Mandela still in hospital, South Africa's Jacob Zuma led his African National Congress party in a song honoring the country's first black president at the start of a key leadership convention in the city of Bloemfontein.

Mandela, who is 94, went into hospital December 8 for what government officials initially described as "tests," but what has since been revealed as gallstone surgery and a lung infection. It is unclear when Mandela might be released from hospital.

President Zuma opened the ANC's five-yearly elective conference Sunday with a struggle song about Mandela that got a tent full of some 4,500 delegates from around South Africa singing and dancing in unity.

"The journey is long,” Zuma sang in Zulu. “Mandela told his followers that we'll meet on freedom day.”

While Zuma is widely expected to win another term as ANC president, he is facing an unprecedented challenge to his leadership from his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe.

The conference underway in the Free State provincial capital of Bloemfontein, also known as Mangaung, will determine the ANC's top brass, and by extension, the country's leaders. The ANC has held a significant majority in South Africa since the first fully democratic elections in 1994.

Motlanthe, who previously served as the country’s caretaker president, appeared to be losing the battle for support at the convention, with most of the delegates loudly supporting Zuma for a second term.

Zuma in a speech sought to ease divisions in the party and stop “bad tendencies," such as political violence and vote-buying, that have crept into the ANC, which this year marks its 100th anniversary.

“We’ve experienced the shocking occurrences when armed comrades disrupt ANC meetings,” he said. “What could possibly be so important that people would risk lives through the use of violence to get their own way?”

More from GlobalPost: A battle is brewing to lead South Africa

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/south-africa/121216/south-africa-jacob-zuma-mandela-song-anc-convention