ANC strapped in for bumpy ride

Jacob Zuma makes his first keynote speech as ANC leader on Saturday amid forecasts his election as head of South Africa’s ruling party will herald the biggest bout of turbulence since apartheid.

All eyes will be on whether Zuma proffers an olive branch towards South African President Thabo Mbeki, the man he toppled in an ANC leadership election in Polokwane last month, or stakes his claim as head of a rival centre of power.

In a brief address on December 20 to members after his victory in Polokwane, Zuma stressed he wanted to work with his “friend and brother” Mbeki.

Barely a week later however Zuma was charged with corruption, racketeering and money-laundering as part of a probe his supporters believe is being orchestrated by Mbeki who sacked Zuma as deputy president in 2005.

“It is going to be a period where there’s a lot of infighting between Mbeki and Zuma supporters,” said Pretoria-based analyst Dirk Koetze.

“The decisions of the Polokwane conference did not resolve these matters and we will be seeing a sort of tug of war.

“I think it’s going to be a difficult year for the ANC in general.”

The speech by Zuma near Pretoria will be made during celebrations to mark the 96th birthday of the ANC, the organisation which led the fight against whites-only rule and has governed South Africa since 1994.

According to Frederick van Zyl Slabbert, a former independent lawmaker, Zuma is likely to use his speech to pour oil on troubled waters on a personal level but will seek to influence policy in Mbeki’s last 18 months as president.

“I don’t expect him to target Mbeki or get personal but I do see him increasing the pressure for performances on the government,” he said.

But if Zuma himself follows a strategy of avoiding direct attacks on Mbeki, his supporters have been less reticent.

Billy Masetlha, sacked by Mbeki as head of the national intelligence agency but elected onto the ANC’s national executive committee on the Zuma ticket, was quoted recently as saying the president and his Cabinet would be “recalled” from their posts unless they “account” to the ANC’s Luthuli House headquarters.

Warning the government not to ignore an ANC resolution to strip the elite Scorpions police unit of its autonomy, Masetlha was quoted as saying by the Business Day newspaper that “if they [government] defy us, we will punish them”.

Mbeki has often been accused of centralising power but Koetze said he would have to take the ANC’s views into account.

“Mbeki certainly does not have as much power as before the conference in the sense that it is more divided power, more shared power,” he said.

“He will have to make sure that he has the support of Zuma and others when he promises to announce the most important policy measures.”

The idea of a dual presidency, one based at Luthuli House in downtown Johannesburg and the other at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, has raised fears of a constant power battle.

Turbulent year

Writing in the Star newspaper, veteran commentator Allister Sparks said the coming year promised to be “the most turbulent, uncertain and dangerous in the life our new democracy”.

Sparks said both men could soothe tensions, Mbeki by acknowledging his rival won fair and square, while Zuma “must rein in his hot-headed supporters and together with Mbeki recognise the economic and constitutional dangers inherent in the present situation”.

Tony Twine, an analyst at the Johannesburg-based investment consultants Econometrix, said the two centres of power should not necessarily lead to instability if both men recognised the dangers and helped heal some of the rifts that have built up in time.

“The current situation will focus the mind on trying to eliminate as much as they can of that gap ... otherwise the party could split in the middle.” - AFP

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