JOHANNESBURG, Dec 4 (Reuters) - South Africa's rand weakened early on Monday as the leadership race for the new leader of the ruling African National Congress gathered momentum, with the largest voting bloc expected to signal its preferred candidate this week.
* At 0709 GMT, the rand traded at 13.7950 versus the dollar, down 0.4 percent from its New York close on Friday.
* "As provinces submit their nominations for the ANC leadership conference, expect political noise to persist," lender Nedbank said in a note.
* The rand advanced 3 percent last week as South Africa escaped a potentially painful double downgrade of its credit ratings and on indications that Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was doing well in nominations for leader of the ANC.
* Ramaphosa is seen as the more market-friendly candidate for the ruling party's top job, but Kwazulu-Natal, the province with the most delegates and home to rival Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma - has yet to announce its preferred successor to President Jacob Zuma.
* The ANC is set to elect a new leader at a national conference later this month.
* Stocks opened firmer at 0700 GMT, with the JSE securities exchange's benchmark Top-40 index up 1 percent by 0709 GMT.
* Government bonds were slightly weaker in early trade, with the yield for the benchmark instrument due in 2026 up 3.5 basis points to 9.36 percent. (Reporting by TJ Strydom; Editing by Toby Chopra; Editing by Toby Chopra)