* Winner likely to succeed Zuma as state president
* Graft allegations shadow Africa’s economic powerhouse (Recasts with Ramaphosa wins vote)
By Alexander Winning and Nqobile Dludla
JOHANNESBURG, Dec 18 (Reuters) - South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was elected leader of the African National Congress on Monday in a close-run vote that will set the direction for the country and the scandal-plagued party that has ruled since the end of apartheid.
Ramaphosa, a 65-year-old union leader who became a businessman and is now one of South Africa’s richest people, has vowed to fight rampant corruption and revitalise the economy, a message hailed by foreign investors.
He narrowly beat Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, 68, a former cabinet minister and the ex-wife of President Jacob Zuma, in Monday’s vote, marking a pivotal moment for the ANC which launched black-majority rule under Nelson Mandela’s leadership 23 years ago.
Zuma’s presidency, tainted by graft accusations that he denies, has tarnished the image of 105-year-old liberation movement, and raised the prospect of splits.
As ANC leader, Ramaphosa is likely to become the country’s next president after elections in 2019.
He smiled and hugged other party officials on Monday as the results were read out.
Dlamini-Zuma, 68, the president’s preferred candidate, had campaigned on pledges to tackle the racial inequality that has persisted since the end of white-minority rule.
The rand currency had risen to a nine-month high of 12.5200 earlier, in as the market priced in a Ramaphosa victory. Government bonds also closed firmer before announcement that Ramaphosa had won the race. (Additional reporting by James Macharia, Mfuneko Toyana, Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo, Ed Stoddard and Zandi Shabalala; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Catherine Evans)