'Shoot-out between Zuma and Mbeki'

The battle for the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) moves one step closer this week to a head-to-head clash between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma.

This, as a series of nomination meetings by key structures of the party gets under way across the country.

And, while there has been talk of a compromise candidate, one commentator believes that time has run out for that option.

Political analyst Xolela Mangcu said this week he did not think it was likely that one would emerge before the party’s national conference, which gets under way in Polokwane on December 16.

“I think the idea of a compromise candidate is no longer viable. I see a shoot-out between Zuma and Mbeki,” he said.

“I think that given the [nature of the] nomination process, it will be impossible to corral everyone in the space of a few weeks to agree

on one…. I don’t see how it would work practically.”

If it did come to a clash, he said, he believed Zuma would be the one left standing.

A total of 4 075 voting delegates are scheduled to attend the conference, making it the largest of the four ANC national conferences held since 1994.

And though their votes are their own, the list of candidates they will be asked to choose from is determined largely by the series of nomination conferences that began on Wednesday and continue to Monday.

The ANC’s Youth League—which has already come out firmly in support of Zuma—began its meeting on Wednesday, while the Women’s League will hold its meeting on Monday.

In between are a series of provincial conferences.
To arrive at their decisions, the provincial conferences tally up nominations from individual branches to arrive at a list of candidates for the 60 ordinary members of the national executive committee.

They also look at the branch nominations for the so-called “top six”—the senior officials including the party president and deputy—as a basis for a provincial list.

The three candidates for each position who get the most provincial and league support go onto the list that will be presented to delegates at Polokwane.

The possibility of a nomination from the floor—which requires the support of a massive 25% of delegates—does however give the party hierarchy last-minute options should a compromise be thrashed out.

Some of the most vigorous provincial debate can be expected at the two-day Eastern Cape conference, which kicks off in the East London city hall on Friday.

The Eastern Cape is the largest of the ANC provinces.

Though indications are that the province as a whole will back Mbeki, the largest region in the province, OR Tambo, has declared its “unwavering” support for Jacob Zuma.

By contrast, in KwaZulu-Natal, the second-largest province, all but three branches have reportedly nominated Zuma.

University of Cape Town politics lecturer Zwelethu Jolobe believes that if it does come down to a two-way contest between Mbeki and Zuma, it is likely to be a neck-and-neck finish.

The only other time in the ANC’s history where there had been a close finish was in 1940, where Dr AB Xuma won the presidency by one vote in 1940, he said.

However the looming threat of corruption charges against Zuma could give Mbeki an edge in the last lap.

He was not convinced that Zuma, who had suffered a “damaging” two years since his dismissal as deputy president of the country, could win against an incumbent who did not face the same pressures from the legal system, and whose macro-economic policies were “very secure”.

Jolobe said however he did not believe the bruising contest for the leadership would have a negative long-term impact on the ANC.

Part of democratic transformation was transformation in the way parties functioned, and in how they managed tensions in a way that strengthened the very democratic essence of the organisation.

“I think that it’s good that there are tensions,” he said. “I don’t really agree with people who say that this is damaging.”

Nor did he think a compromise candidate would be good for the ANC.

“One group has to win, and the other has to accept it. If the losing group accepts the outcome of conference, the ANC would be much wiser,” he said. - Sapa

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