An ex-wife of South African President Jacob Zuma was re-appointed a lawmaker in parliament on Thursday, in what is being seen as her latest step to secure the country's presidency in two years' time.
The National Assembly confirmed in a statement that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a former African Union chief, was sworn in as a member of parliament for the governing African National Congress.
She posted on Twitter that "5 years ago I left parliament with mixed feelings today I return as directed by (the ANC) as a servant of the SA (South African) people."
"I return determined to contribute to implementing decisions of (the ANC) particularly as it relates to radically improving our people's lives," she wrote.
Dlamini-Zuma, 68, is considered a leading candidate to replace Zuma as head of the ANC at a party conference in December, although she has not publically declared her candidacy in the leadership battle.
But she has been endorsed by the ANC's women and youth leagues, and enjoys support from the powerful KwaZulu-Natal province, which is also Zuma's stronghold.
Since she left the AU early this year, she has been campaigning across the country, and nominations for the party leadership posts are expected to be announced this month.
Dlamini-Zuma replaced Pule Mabe who resigned from parliament earlier this month, meaning that the ANC had to top up its allocation of MPs.
Opposition leaders and analysts say they believe her deployment to parliament is aimed at strategically positioning her to take over the ANC leadership.
'Buttress presidential campaign'
"Dlamini-Zuma's elevation to MP and likely cabinet minister seems to be a carefully orchestrated move to buttress her presidential campaign," the main opposition Democratic Alliance said.
"It amounts to nothing less than state resources being used to support a candidate for the ANC presidency."
Zuma is widely seen as favouring Dlamini-Zuma, with whom he has four children, ahead of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, which would set up a showdown that could split the ANC.
Xolani Dube of Xubera, a thinktank based in Durban, said that by promoting Dlamini-Zuma to parliament, Zuma is probably preparing the way for her to ascend to the ANC presidency.
If the ANC decides to recall Zuma he "can quit the (national) presidency and hand over to her the presidency of the country," Dube said.
"They are trying to have a smooth handover."
At the same time, Zuma is backing his ex-wife for his own survival, say some.
"There is possibly no other candidate who can potentially protect him," said Dirk Kotze, a political analyst at the University of South Africa.
Dlamini-Zuma last month rejected criticism that her bid to succeed Zuma was a strategy to protect the embattled leader from criminal prosecution once he leaves office, telling AFP that she found such allegations "offensive".
Zuma completes his final term in power in 2019.
He faces a slew of court cases, including one stemming from nearly 800 corruption charges that may be reinstated over a multibillion-dollar arms deal in the 1990s.
Meanwhile, Makhosi Khoza, an outspoken ANC lawmaker, resigned on Thursday from the party of Nelson Mandela, denouncing what she called the graft-tainted leadership.
"I will not be led by leaders who lost legitimacy and credibility," she said in a statement.
"I quit. The ANC has been hijacked by this alien and corrupt type" of leadership.