Cyril Ramaphosa, 65, a lawyer who first made his name in the 1980s by organizing workers in the country’s mining industry into its most powerful union, won the presidency of the governing African National Congress (ANC) at its five-yearly conference in Johannesburg.

This puts him in line to become South Africa’s president, succeeding Nelson Mandela – who served 27 years in prison, Thabo Mbeki – who fought apartheid from exile, and Jacob Zuma – who served time both in prison and in exile.

Ramaphosa won 2440 votes from conference delegates, against 2261 votes for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, immediate past chair of the African Union Commission and a cabinet minister under presidents Mandela and Mbeki.

But unless the ANC replaces President Zuma with Ramaphosa before the expiry of the current administration’s term in 2019, Ramaphosa’s accession to the presidency of the country is not as sure a bet as was the case with his predecessors.

Support for the party has been on decline under Zuma’s presidency, which has been marked by corruption scandals, a slowing of economic growth and rising unemployment.

Most observers consider an outright defeat of the ANC at the 2019 election as unlikely, but the country has already entered an era of coalition politics. At municipal elections in 2016. the party lost power to opposition coalitions in two of the three biggest metropolitan areas.