The ANC has decided to send its deputy president to mediate in South Sudan so that relations with the SPLM get stronger, say insiders.
The ANC's decision to send its deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa to mediate in the South Sudan conflict was influenced by the party's determination to strengthen party-to-party relations with Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), but the deployment presents an opportunity to build Ramaphosa's political profile among African states.
Two ANC national executive committee (NEC) sources and a Luthuli House employee told the Mail & Guardian that Ramaphosa was chosen to represent the ANC because of the senior position he holds, second to the presidency.
"Remember he is a future president," said an ANC NEC member. "So it's important that he starts building that profile now."
Ramaphosa has been inactive in politics for several years and made a comeback when he was elected ANC deputy president in 2012 in Mangaung.
Being known as an African statesperson with required mediation skills in a continent often ravaged by conflicts will increase Ramaphosa's standing in the continent as well as strengthen global recognition of the man billed to become South Africa's deputy state president after this year's elections.
The ANC's intervention in South Sudan was a response to a request by South Sudan's president Salva Kiir to ANC president Jacob Zuma.
The ANC NEC was informed about the SPLM request and resolved that an envoy should be sent to help the warring factions in that country find peace, according to ANC NEC sources.
A member of the ANC NEC's international relations sub-committee told the M&G that the ANC agreed to help the SPLM because of a strong relationship the two enjoy.
"The ANC trained and assisted the SPLM when they were holding an independence referendum and also with political education. When the SPLM is in a crisis it's expected that they would look outside their region and economic bloc for a solution."
ANC national chairperson Baleka Mbete led a delegation to South Sudan in 2011 to celebrate the new country's independence day and highlighted the long-standing relationship between the ANC and SPLM.
"We shared offices in the dark days of our struggle against apartheid," she said.
"For example, in Harare, the ANC and SPLM shared the same offices. After 1994, the ANC handed over its offices and property to the SPLM."
'At the centre of the Sudanese problem'
As part of his assignment to Juba, Ramaphosa is tasked to hold talks with president Salva Kiir, his former deputy Riek Machar who's accused of trying unsuccessfully to overthrow him, Salva Kiir's suspended adviser Rebecca Garang who is the widow of the late Sudanese liberation leader John Garang as well as suspended SPLM secretary general, Pagan Amum.
"They are all at the centre of the Sudanese problem," said the ANC's international relations source.
Former president Thabo Mbeki has been mediating between the Khartoum government that's running the old Sudan and the Juba government that's now in charge of the less than three-year-old South Sudan, and the ANC's appointment of Ramaphosa as a mediator raised questions about the possible dilution of Mbeki's role.
But the two mediators are unlikely to step on each other's toes, said ANC sources.
"The difference here is that current problems in South Sudan are caused by internal party politics. Mbeki was mediating between Sudan Khartoum and South Sudan when the SPLM was still seeking cessation from Khartoum."
Ramaphosa will find the situation in South Sudan a bit calmer, though violence hasn't been halted completely. East African leaders under a bloc called Igad, the Intergovernmental Authority for Development, helped South Sudan's warring factions sign a peace agreement in January in which some of those arrested for orchestrating a coup de'tat against Salva Kiir were released and agreed to take part in an ongoing dialogue to reach a political settlement.
The next round of talks is scheduled to start on February 10.
While Salva Kiir's government arrested its critics, who now call themselves the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-In-Opposition) for an alleged coup plot, they claim all they called for is democratisation of the party, social and political reforms and transformation of the SPLA, perceived as being biased towards factions in the ruling party. The SPLA was established mainly as a coalition of armed groups that were active during the civil war that ended in 2005.
Fighting broke out in South Sudan on December 15 and has now degenerated into a tribal civil war linked to the country's two largest tribes, the Dinka and the Nuer.