South African presidential candidate Jacob Zuma addresses the African National Congress youth league and supporters in August.
South African presidential candidate Jacob Zuma addresses the African National Congress youth league and supporters in August. - 
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TESS VIGELAND: U.S. presidential contenders aren't the only ones campaigning around this country. One of the leading candidates for president of South Africa is here lobbying for business partnerships and investment. He's shaken off rape charges and corruption allegations in his home country. But he has yet to make peace with the international business community. From Johannesburg, Gretchen Wilson has the story.

GRETCHEN WILSON: Jacob Zuma, the front runner to lead South Africa's ruling party, has a strong support base among the poor. They cheer him in rallies around the country.

He's also backed by trade unions and the Communist Party, which tends to ring alarm bells for international investors. Which is why Zuma's been in Austin, Texas, assuring U.S. retailers and investment institutions that he won't threaten South Africa's economic stability.

Not everyone's buying it. Ross Herbert is with the South African Institute of International Affairs. He says unions and the Communist party feel sidelined by government's focus on privatization and free trade.

ROSS HERBERT: They've been particularly disaffected in recent years, feeling that the government was too in favor of liberalization and open markets and not activist enough in terms of creating jobs and protecting jobs from foreign imports.

He says these groups are likely to expect paybacks for supporting Zuma's campaign -- like higher taxes on U.S. and Chinese imports to protect the local textile industry.

But at a recent briefing with Merrill Lynch, Zuma backed South Africa's fiscally sound economic policies.

So some analysts say jitters over Zuma are exaggerated. Dale McKinley is a political analyst in Johannesburg.

DALE MCKINLEY: If someone's looking and saying, "Well, my goodness, if Jacob Zuma becomes the next president of South Africa that economic policy is gonna change!" No. It's not gonna happen.

McKinley says that the core ANC leadership continues to support market-friendly policies. In the 13 years since apartheid rule, South Africa's economy has flourished - with GDP growing at about 5 percent.

In Johannesburg, I'm Gretchen Wilson for Marketplace.