JOHANNESBURG, Nov 23 (Reuters) The influential youth league of the African National Congress today excluded President Thabo Mbeki from the list of members it wants to lead the party.
The ANC holds a conference next month that is expected to choose its next leader. Mbeki and his deputy, Jacob Zuma, are locked in a battle to head the ruling party.
Mbeki, who must step down as the country's president in 2009, has strongly suggested he wants to be elected to a third term as ANC leader despite opposition from many rank-and-file members, party leftists and the youth league.
If Zuma wins the ANC leadership, he will be strongly placed to become national president.
The youth league, which has always supported Zuma's presidential bid, said Mbeki had played his role in the party and in the country and should give others a chance.
''It is not that we are eradicating him, we believe that he has played his role, he has got nothing to lose and nothing to win and has nothing to prove to anybody,'' Fakile Mbalula, president of the youth league, told a news conference in Johannesburg.
ANC branches and other bodies are drawing up lists of candidates for the party leadership.
The league said it wanted Mbeki to remain in the party, but in a ceremonial role, like former president Nelson Mandela.
''There are many options for former presidents, he can become the president of the veterans' league,'' Mbalula said, tongue in cheek.
Zuma, who is ANC deputy president, today spoke outside Cape Town at a rally to fight crime, a hot-button political issue in South Africa, where murder rates have reached levels on par with countries at war.
''We need extraordinary measures to deal with that issue,'' Zuma said during his visit to Mitchells Plain, without saying what measures he had in mind.
''I believe as a country we have got to deal with the issue of crime more effectively ... There must be something wrong with society ... if adults rape children and kill them.'' Despite numerous initiatives, South Africa's crime levels remain among the highest in the world, casting a shadow over the country's preparations to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
The murder rate jumped 2.4 percent in the year to the end of March 2007, with 19,202 murders committed during that period.
Zuma has successfully portrayed himself as a man of the people, enjoying wide support from powerful unions and the ANC rank-and-file, who see him as a leader who can help millions of poor South Africans still living in grim townships.
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