Winnie, Zuma and Phosa square up

Mpumalanga province this week stood firm on its support for provincial Premier Mathews Phosa as African National Congress deputy president, in the face of reported pressure from President Nelson Mandela to get Phosa to move aside for the national leadership’s candidate, Jacob Zuma.

This opens the possibility of a tense three-horse race between Zuma, the favoured son of the party leadership, Winnie Madikizela- Mandela, the headstrong and controversial candidate of the populists, and Phosa, who could gain both from those who oppose Madikizela-Mandela and those who are resistant to being told how to vote.

Provincial representative Jackson Mthembu said: ”It’s not a few people or a group of people. Not even someone from the national or provincial structures can tell us to withdraw his candidacy.”
Phosa has maintained a stony silence over the claims, and has refused to be drawn on whether or not he will allow his name to go forward as a candidate for the second most powerful political position in the country.

The one thing that is clear is that the ANC’s electoral process is once again under fire amid objections to perceived meddling and manipulation by head office. Many observers point to the irony that it was Phosa himself who was until recently the most vocal ANC leader on the defects of the way the party elects new leaders and the harm that this does to its image.

Phosa recently voiced this concern at the meeting in Mpumalanga where he was nominated for the organisation’s deputy presidency. He had even promised that he would put forward a proposal to revamp the system of electing leaders at the December conference. Now Phosa has himself become a victim of the process.

The reported encounter with Mandela has led to widespread speculation on whether the ANC has already chosen leaders ahead of the conference. ANC Gauteng branches are expected to endorse Zuma’s nomination for the position when they meet this weekend. The Northern Province, however, is playing its cards close to the chest.

While Phosa is keeping silent, at least two other contenders for the deputy presidency, Zuma and Madikizela-Mandela, have offered sharply divergent views.

Zuma, in an interview with the Mail & Guardian this week, said it was not strange for a party or a particular individual to ask ”a comrade” to withdraw his nomination for a certain position. ”It has been happening all the time. It’s practically what happens; it’s an internal thing,” said Zuma, who asked, ”Is it wrong if that leader is advised by a particular comrade to remain where he is until the party deploys him somewhere?”

But Madikizela-Mandela has claimed there is something sinister in the practice, accusing the ANC of asking Phosa to step down in order to consolidate Zuma’s support against her. She has also criticised the ANC for failing to implement the constituency-based parliamentary system. While Madikizela-Mandela’s tirade against the system of electing new leaders is viewed in certain quarters as an attempt to consolidate her bid for the position, many ANC members share her sentiments.

They think voting at the conference in December is going to be a mere formality. The leadership has already chosen Zuma for the position, they said this week. But, according to some in the ANC, the reasons why Zuma is preferred by the head office over other candidates is not clear. The only explanation the M&G managed to solicit from certain pro-Zuma lobbyists on the national executive committee was that Zuma belongs to the older generation of ANC leaders.

A high-profile national executive committee (NEC) member ascribes this to the tradition of the ANC. He says it ”is not acceptable to have officials from the younger generation challenging the more senior generation for leadership positions. ”It’s not an analysis people would like to know but it is there, we cannot do away with it. Our tradition cannot be undermined,” he said, adding that Phosa and Zuma do not to belong to the same generation of ANC leaders.

”In order to have peace within the organisation, we need to get the older generation in leadership positions first. They should not find themselves competing for positions with members of the younger generation in the party. ”You don’t just emerge on the basis of votes. Phosa belongs to the third generation of ANC leaders. Their time will come.”

Asked why the youth league decided suddenly to withdraw its nomination of Phosa in favour of Zuma, he said the youth had not widely consulted before nominating him. ”Zuma wants to stand. He is very critical for us in KwaZulu-Natal. I don’t believe he can become deputy president of the country. We can only increase his stature by making him deputy president of the ANC — which will be an indication that we indeed take that province seriously,” said a source from the NEC.

Sources say the youth league withdrew its nomination of Phosa after pressure from the ANC head office mounted. Meanwhile, Mpumalanga’s Mthembu said that they would stick by Phosa. ”He has not told us that he wants to withdraw and only the provincial ANC branches who nominated him have the right to instruct him to step down. ”Nobody in the ANC nor in the government has the authority to prescribe to provinces when it comes to nominated leaders.”


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Wally Mbhele
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