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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) needs a bold leader to launch a "second revolution" redistributing wealth to the black majority, said the head of the party's youth wing, which helped propel President Jacob Zuma to power.
Zuma is expected to step down as ANC leader in December and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the head of the African Union and Zuma's ex-wife, along with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa are widely seen as the two leading candidates to replace him.
But ANC Youth League President Collen Maine said the candidate it would endorse to run for leader at a party conference in December would send "shock waves" through the ANC, suggesting the youth branch will not back either frontrunner.
"These candidates who have been mentioned are part of the system. They have been part of the system we want to change," Maine told Reuters in an interview.
"We need bold leadership. We need a second revolution that will cause ruptures in the economy."
Dlamini-Zuma, 67, and Ramaphosa, 64, are both anti-apartheid activists and ANC stalwarts, though neither has declared their intention to run for the ANC leadership at this point.
Given the party's dominance since the end of apartheid in 1994, whoever succeeds Zuma as ANC leader will most likely replace him as the country's president too when elections are held in 2019.
Maine, who has been a staunch defender of Zuma against party critics, said every ANC leader had failed to deliver on the promise to transform South Africa, which remains starkly unequal more than two decades after the end of white-minority rule.
Maine said he wanted a new leader to take radical measures, such as the redistribution of land, to disperse wealth from white elites to the black majority, as well as to limit the influence of foreign companies and give the poor free education.
"Our leaders have derailed the revolution. We were supposed to get more than just the vote. We need to shake up the economy. You don't have a revolution without pain," Maine said.
The Youth League was established in 1944 by ANC leaders Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo and it became one of the major disruptive forces in the fight against apartheid.
Under its last president, Julius Malema, the group was instrumental in forcing out President Thabo Mbeki and installing Zuma. Maine was elected youth leader unopposed in 2015, three years after Malema was expelled for turning against Zuma.
Maine says the Youth League has 600,000 members and a significant voting block at party conference, though the complex leadership election process means it is unclear exactly how much influence the group will wield come December.
Ramaphosa, who was once touted as a successor to Mandela, would be first choice for many investors because his business background suggests he will support more pro-business policies than many in the traditionally left-wing ANC.
Dlamini-Zuma was regarded as a capable technocrat during her time as South Africa's minister of home affairs from 2009 to 2012 and has since gained international exposure as the first female head of the African Union.
The ANC's Women League endorsed Dlamini-Zuma last week and President Zuma, who will have a major say in who succeeds him, is also expected to back his ex-wife if she runs.
Maine has courted controversy by saying a sharp devaluation of the rand currency would force South Africa to make tough economic decisions and turn the tables on the white business elite, even if it caused near-term pain for the general public.
South Africa's economy is barely growing and ratings agencies have threatened to downgrade the country's sovereign debt rating to "junk".
The policies espoused by Maine would spook financial markets but he said in the interview with Reuters that should not be a worry for politicians bent on change.
"We should not be concerned with markets. Once we hear the rand is going to fall, or we are going to 'junk', we get very nervous. Black people are already in junk," Maine said. "If some white people want to leave South Africa, let them leave."
"Investors will not leave. They need South Africa."
Maine has also openly admitted to meeting several times with the Gupta family, Indian businessmen close to Zuma who have been accused of influencing cabinet appointments and winning government tenders unfairly.
A report by a government watchdog found evidence that the family held undue influence over government decisions. Zuma and the Gupta family deny any wrongdoing.
"The only mistake the Guptas made was going into a space reserved for white people," Maine said. "If you want to see who has captured this country, look at white monopoly capital."
Additional reporting by Nqobile Dludla; editing by David Clarke