/ 15 December 2007

Mbeki ‘must give others a chance’

Sara Kadi, a volunteer Aids worker who lives in a shack without electricity in an impoverished part of Soweto, wants a better life.

That is why she wants Jacob Zuma to win the race for the leadership of the ruling African National Congress and become the next president of South Africa.

”It has nothing to do with President Thabo Mbeki,” the wizened 51-year-old said this week. ”But we need change and he must give others a chance.”

Sentiments like Kadi’s are being echoed across the country ahead of an ANC congress starting on Saturday at which Zuma is expected to wrest the party leadership from Mbeki. It is the first time the ANC presidency has been contested in 55 years.

If Zuma wins, he would be in line to be the party’s candidate for president of the country in the 2009 elections. The ANC candidate would likely win, given the party’s wide support.

Mbeki is barred by the Constitution from seeking a third term as president of the country, but remaining at the helm of the ANC would give him a say in who succeeds him and in the policies his successor adopts.

During the nomination process last month in the ANC’s provincial and other internal bodies, Zuma was far ahead of Mbeki.

Much has been made of the personality and class differences between the coolly cerebral, foreign-educated Mbeki and his populist former deputy, a former member of the ANC’s military wing whose reputation has survived rape and corruption accusations.

Campaigns fought around personalities

In an interview published in the Mail & Guardian on Friday, Mbeki said ”campaigns seem to be fought around personalities, which is extremely unhealthy.”

”We’ve got such serious challenges — poverty, unemployment, crime. But we’re not discussing these things; we’re discussing individuals,” Mbeki said, saying he had never seen ANC members fighting each other so bitterly.

Political analyst Adam Habib said while the debate appeared to be about personality, it reflected ”a serious divide” over policy.

Mbeki has spearheaded the country’s economic boom but has alienated the poor who feel they are still waiting to benefit nearly 13 years after the end of apartheid.

Faced with the challenge of attracting the investment he believed the country needed to fuel growth, Mbeki adhered to free market policies that he knew would be unpopular. To ensure his strategy’s success, he created a centralised administration filled with loyal technocrats.

”Most people say the centralising dynamic is a product of Mbeki’s personality. My argument is that it is a product of choices made that were in part forced onto … the ANC,” Habib said.

Workers who felt sidelined fought back with strikes and there were violent protests over the slow pace of delivery of houses, jobs and services across the country.

Core constituency

Now all those who felt aggrieved have thrown in their lot with Zuma.

”We want an ANC that will understand its core constituency is workers and the poor. The people who vote for it are workers and the poor,” Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, said at a rally on Sunday.

Vavi’s union federation, the country’s largest; the South African Communist Party; and the leftist ANC Youth League have backed Zuma, creating divisions within the ruling party and between it and its traditional allies.

Mbeki and Zuma once worked as partners and Mbeki appeared to be grooming Zuma as his successor, helping deflect some of the criticism Mbeki now faces. But Mbeki fired Zuma as the country’s deputy president in 2005 over a corruption scandal.

Zuma allegedly was aware of his financial adviser’s efforts to elicit a R500 000-a-year bribe for him to deflect investigations into the deal. Charges, though, were withdrawn against Zuma. Prosecutors have indicated the charges could be revived.

Aids and crime

The corruption scandal was closely followed by charges Zuma raped a family friend. He was acquitted last year, but he outraged HIV/Aids activists when he testified during the trial he had unprotected, consensual sex with the HIV-positive woman. His claims that he took a shower after the encounter because he believed that would protect him from the syndrome have made him the butt of jokes and cartoonists at home and abroad.

Zuma survived both those scandals, successfully portraying himself as a victim of a plot to stop him becoming president.

Mbeki, who long argued he did not believe there was a link between HIV and Aids, also has lost support over his handling of the country’s Aids crisis, his insistence on quiet diplomacy over confrontation to address the political and economic crisis in neighbouring Zimbabwe, and accusations he has not done enough to fight crime.

That has given Zuma plenty of ammunition on the campaign trail.

At a speech Monday, Zuma called for Aids and crime to be ”treated as national emergencies,” something many South Africans have decried Mbeki for not doing.

He also launched a veiled attack on Mbeki’s stance on Zimbabwe.

”When history eventually deals with dictators, those who stood by and watched the deterioration of nations should also bear the consequence,” he said on Monday.

This week, Zuma, a Zulu, campaigned in the heart of the Xhosa tribal homeland of the Eastern Cape, Mbeki’s traditional support base. Wherever Zuma went he was greeted by enthusiastic supporters in T-shirts bearing his image and the sound of his signature tune, ”Bring me my machine gun”.

Habib argues, though, that Zuma may not be able to move any faster than Mbeki has to satisfy all those who want change. He notes Mbeki himself has already been moving toward greater investment in health and social welfare. Zuma recently returned from London, India and the United States where he met with business leaders and investors to allay fears he would radically change the economic agenda.

Yeats and Wordsworth

A member of one of the ANC’s most powerful families, the 65-year-old Mbeki was sent during the apartheid years to study in Britain, where he developed a taste for pipes, Yeats and Wordsworth.

There were high hopes for Mbeki when he succeeded to the presidency after Nelson Mandela stepped down in 1999.

He has been credited with South Africa’s economic growth and worked to mediate in conflicts in Côte d’Ivoire, Sudan and elsewhere on the continent.

Both Mbeki’s parents were teachers and activists from prominent families. His father Govan Mbeki was arrested in 1963 along with Mandela and others and joined them in the famous Rivonia Trial. Govan Mbeki, who died in 2001, was sentenced to life imprisonment and spent 23 years on Robben Island before being released in 1987.

One of four children, Mbeki spent long periods during his childhood with friends and other relatives because his parents feared they would be arrested.

He left the country in 1962 under orders from the ANC and completed a master’s in economics at Sussex University in 1966. He travelled to Russia, Botswana, Zambia, Swaziland and Nigeria on behalf of the ANC.

In exile, he was protege of the late Oliver Tambo, the revered leader of the ANC in exile. He returned to the country when the ANC was unbanned and was groomed to succeed Mandela.

He married Zanele Dlamini in 1974. They have no children. Mbeki’s son from a previous relationship, born in 1959, disappeared in 1981 in a mystery that has still not been resolved.

The peacemaker

A member of the ANC’s military wing, Zuma, now 65, was imprisoned for 10 years on Robben Island. He later went into exile, where he headed the then banned-ANC’s intelligence activities.

Mbeki chose Zuma — a Zulu — as deputy president in 1999, in part in recognition of the role he had played in ending violence pitting members of the ANC against members of the main Zulu party in the troubled province of KwaZulu-Natal.

Zuma, born in rural KwaZulu-Natal, lost his father when he was a young boy. His mother took work as a domestic worker in Durban, and by the age of 15 Zuma was doing odd jobs to help his mother.

He joined the ANC in 1959 and became an active member of its guerrilla wing in 1962. He was arrested in 1963, convicted of conspiring to overthrow the government and sentenced to 10 years on Robben Island. He studied while he was in prison, but not as far as high school.

He left South Africa in 1975 and spent the next 12 years in exile, based first in Swaziland and then Mozambique as well as Zambia.

Zuma is married, and was formerly married to South Africa’s current Foreign Affairs Minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. He has several children. – Sapa-AP