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FILE PHOTO: South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa greets security personnel at the World Economic Forum on Africa 2017 meeting in Durban, South Africa, May 5, 2017. REUTERS/Rogan Ward/File Photo

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has denied a report by a Sunday newspaper alleging that he had affairs with several women, describing it as an attempt to discredit him ahead of the ruling party's leadership contest.

The African National Congress (ANC) picks President Jacob Zuma's successor in December and unionist-turned-business tycoon Ramaphosa is expected to face Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, former African Union chairwoman and Zuma’s ex-wife.

Ramaphosa has pledged to fight the corruption that has plagued Zuma's time in office.

The Sunday Independent newspaper said it obtained emails linking Ramaphosa to at least eight women, saying he pays their tuition fees, accommodation and other expenses.

The newspaper said it had seen documents showing Ramaphosa holds three alternative email accounts under fake names, which he uses to communicate with the women.

The deputy president said the claims were aimed at discrediting him, using similar tactics to those of the former apartheid regime to smear its opponents.

Ramaphosa had filed a court application on Saturday night to try to prevent the newspaper from running the story but a judge ruled that it could be published.

In a separate interview with the Sunday Times newspaper, Ramaphosa said he and his wife supported 30 women and 24 men financially every month. He conceded he had an affair that ended eight years ago, and had since reconciled with his wife.

"I am not a blesser," Ramaphosa said, using the local term for sugar daddy.

Ramaphosa said the latest episode extended far beyond an attempt at a political smear.

"It represents an escalation of a dirty war against those who are working to restore the values, principles and integrity of the African National Congress and society," he said.

"We now need to confront the likelihood that state agencies and resources are being abused to promote factional political agendas," he said.

Ramaphosa has called for an end to corruption and is backing a probe into allegations of influence-peddling in government.

The nation's anti-graft watchdog in November called on Zuma to appoint a judicial commission of inquiry within 30 days.

Zuma has said he wants such an inquiry but has not yet appointed a commission.

(Reporting by James Macharia; Editing by Andrew Bolton)

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Reuters