South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, 65, has a strong lead in the race to become the new leader of the governing African National Congress.
He emerged as frontrunner after ANC party branches chose between him and his rival Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
She is a prominent politician and the ex-wife of scandal-prone President Jacob Zuma, who steps down this month.
The winner of the party race will be well placed to become the country’s new president in 2019.
But the BBC’s Andrew Harding in Johannesburg says the final vote is likely to be close.
- BBC Africa Live: More on this and other stories
- Will ANC learn from Mugabe’s downfall?
- Political killings that could engulf South Africa
The ANC party branches will account for 90% of the 5,240 voting delegates at the ANC’s party conference which starts on 16 December, South Africa’s News24 reports.
However, some branches get more than one vote as the bigger the branch, the more delegates it can send to the conference.
Still all to play for
Analysis by Lebo Diseko, BBC News, Johannesburg
Whilst this is good news for Mr Ramaphosa’s camp, he is not home-free just yet.
He currently has a lead of around 500 branches on his main rival for the ANC presidency.
The catch is that some branches get to send more than one delegate to the elective conference, because of their size.
KwaZulu-Natal is one of the larger provinces and here, in her home province, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s region got 454 branch nominations to Mr Ramaphosa’s 191.
The ANC Women’s League and the ANC Youth League are yet to give their nominations. Each of the party’s leagues gets 60 nominations each, and both the Youth and Women’s league have publicly endorsed Ms Dlamini-Zuma thus far.
And then there is the issue of “unity” nominations – where the word “unity” was written on the form instead of selecting a candidate.
There were 233 of these in Mpumalanga province, and they are being counted as abstentions. But no-one knows which way these will swing once it comes to the conference.
The vote at the conference is a secret ballot, so no-one will know who voted which way. And equally, it makes it difficult to predict just which way delegates will go when it comes to the crunch.
Mr Ramaphosa, who has been highly critical of state corruption and is backed by the business community and unions, took the lead in five of the country’s nine provinces.
But Mrs Dlamini-Zuma, a former African Union Commission chairwoman with the endorsement of her ex-husband to succeed him as ANC president, has the lead in the two provinces with the most ANC delegates – KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga.
Some in the ANC are warning of legal challenges and even vote rigging, as a deeply divided party tries to find a new path, and new energy, after 23 years in power, our reporter says.
The leader of the ANC automatically becomes the party’s candidate for president of the country.
Tight race for the ANC:
Cyril Ramaphosa – backed by 1,861 ANC branches
- Detained for two years for anti-apartheid activities; launched mineworkers’ union in 1982
- Headed committee that prepared for Nelson Mandela’s release from prison
- Left politics to become one of South Africa’s richest businessmen – on Lonmin board during 2012 Marikana massacre
- Became South Africa’s deputy president in 2014.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – backed by 1,309 ANC branches
- A leading anti-apartheid activist, fled South Africa to complete medical training in UK
- Met Jacob Zuma while working as a doctor in Swaziland, divorcing him after 16 years of marriage in 1998
- Declined offer to take place of her ex-husband as deputy president in 2005 after he was sacked
- Chair of the African Union commission from 2012 to 2016.
South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa takes lead in ANC president race