The buzzword amongst the ruling African National Congress faithful across factional divide is 'THE ROAD TO LIMPOPO'. You obviously should have been living in a cave if you don't know what's going to happen there, especially with the international media having already diarised the day and threatening to invade Mankweng Township with hundreds of journalists. Okay; for your benefit caveman, we'll break it down to swallowable crumbs for you. Apparently the 95-years-old ANC will be electing its new national office bearers at one of its most crucial 52nd National Conference since its unbanning in 1990. At stake are the sixty-six national executive committee positions. To the rank and file the other sixty-four are of less significance as all eyes are on the number one (president) position and probably number two (deputy-president). The presidency because according to arguments regularly put forward by the ANC Youth League and the Young Communists League the time of governing South Afrika from two centres of power should be history post-2009 national elections. Simply put, whoever becomes the provincial chairperson must automatically be the incumbent premier all the way to the region and branch. In a way this limits the powers of the president to hire and fire premiers and mayors who, weakened by a flawed electoral process might not be commanding huge support from the grassroots. Traditionally the grassroots elects the leadership. In ANC language this set-up is called 'all power to the people'
That is why the presidency is the crown jewel, you get to be the next president of South Africa, select your own cabinet and have a ten-years carnival. Some experts argue that the call for the two centres of power practise to be phased out came as a result of disorientation within an ANC faction that feels that President Thabo Mbeki is having too much power to hire and fire, often without consulting the ANC highest decision making body, the NEC.
The party's presidency position is the one that has fueled 'THE ROAD TO LIMPOPO' slogan. This is the position currently eyed by fired former deputy president of the Republic of South Africa and current ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma and his comrade, Sout Africa and ANC president Thabo Mbeki. For different reasons known to the two gentlemen they are both eyeing this lucrative position. Zuma, believably because it means he'll be on his way back to the Union Buildings, this time as a president who can hire and fire 'Mbeki cronies' who celebrated when he was 'relieved'. It is Mbeki's interest to retain the position that puzzles a lot of people given that in the current constitutional dispensation there is no way he is going to be the country's president for a third term if not the purpoted political investment the late ANC president O.R. Tambo made into him. Why would Mbeki want to retain ANC presidency if not for those ceremonial reasons?
We'll come back to that; for now let's look at why would someone want to be the deputy president of the ANC and why would the president of the ANC be interested in who becomes his/her deputy? According to ANC tradition whoever becomes its deputy president is going to head the Deployment Committee of the party, which means in real economic terms, jobs for loyal friends and comrades of a feather who made sympathetic telephone calls during rainy days. Which further means that if you support him/her now you can rest assured that s/he will place you into a lucrative position in one of the parastatals or a director-general position in one of the government ministries, or any position where government has influence.
One commentator speculated that the whole purpoted bad blood between Zuma and Mbeki did not start when Mbeki's studies at Lovedale were interrupted by a strike on the same year that Zuma joined the ANC. It is reported that the beef actually started when some senior appointments to government parastatals were made without consulting Zuma in his capacity as head of the deployment committee. The speculation goes on to claim that Zuma 'made a mistake' of openly questioning some strategic appointments to especially two parastatals which's CEO's are not black. "He complained that such practises were reversing the gains of the government's affirmative action policy. He questioned the government's commitment to transformation in the private sector while it was not seen to be practising it. He complained that if senior black managers can not be trusted to head Denel and Transnet then it was a negative vote on the capabilities of black managers", the source alleged.
It is further claimed that Zuma communicated his dissatisfaction with such overlooking, arguing that his position as ANC deputy president and head of government business was being undermined. "That did not go down well with Mbeki's people who had a neo-liberal mandate from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to uphold and which only augered well with the type of appointments Mbeki and his people were making. Here were comrades who were unemployed with skills simply because the capitalists overseas did not recognise their skills as marketable to them and their expansionist visions" the source said.
When one analyses this allegation it somehow provides some of the reasons why Mbeki was confident about a sustainable six percent annual economic growth. You can safely say he needed luitenants he could trust to drive that economic ideal forward. Is there something wrong with being ambitious and putting mechanisms in place to achieve it? Maybe it was an issue of Zuma and Mbeki seeing things differently and only needing consensus or the redrafting of the deployment committee mandate to fulfil a national economic ideal.
I said we'll come back to the reasons why Mbeki would want to be the president of the ANC again. Newspapers and intellectuals have had a field day trying to dissect this quagmire. To answer it satisfactorily one needs to ask; 'why did former Cape Town Mayor Nomaindia Mfeketo give her municipal manager a new contract when she knew she was going to be bundled out of power by Helen Zille?' People need not to look at Mbeki's firing of former National Intelligence Agency (NIA) boss Billy Masetlha as a sign that he's paranoid of what he was capable of in his position, which, if allegations are believed, might have included the ability to fabricate email exchanges and authorising the eavesdropping of other people's communication. Remember the reasons for Masetlha's deployment as Inkatha Freedom Party leader and former Home Affairs minister Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's director-general? Some well-placed sources say Masetlha was instrumental in the demise of the IFP since he was put there to spy on Buthelezi so that such information can be used to defeat the IFP.
Now, Masetlha being moved to NIA after that victory could have only meant one thing; the need to give him a job that would consolidate the gains the ANC made with the demise of IFP and to keep an eye on other opposition parties, most notably the Democratic Alliance (DA). But Masetlha, reportedly having been deployed to the position through a recommendation of the Zuma-led deployment committee felt that with Mbeki's new attitude towards partisan appointments his next job wouldn't be secured if he fell out of favour with Mbeki. He felt the need to repay Zuma for the faith he showed in him and lest, he took Zuma's side in the succession debate the Youth League says is a fragment of the media's imagination.
This informs you that Mbeki would like to be in power (not presidency) longer to make sure that whoever comes to power (Union Buildings) continues to fulfil the mandate given to him and some of his senior cabinet ministers by his fellow Sussex University graduates strategically placed in development hegemonies. A flawed mandate that is accused of creating a situation whereby the Irish coffee effect becomes the norm in black business. Whereby formerly critical comrades are given 30% of white businesses while the whites hold on to 70% because those colonial masters, that Mbeki is accused of serving demand such a status quo. A black business consortium that bought into a huge mining house recently bragged about how the empowerment deal was drawn by the white company and how they were only sold the deal with strings on who they can partner with, who did not include the workers. In any language that is an oligarchy and fronting of the highest order. It's considered 'inheriting your own legacy'
They say that if you challenge Mbeki about the levels of poverty after thirteen years of democracy he will likely tell you that even Rome wasn't built in a day, that people shouldn't expect miracles in such a short space of time given that apartheid was not thirteen years old when it was defeated.
People shouldn't expect miracles while Patrice Motsepe, Tokyo Sexwale, Saki Macozoma, Cyril Ramaphosa, Manne Dipico, Smuts Ngonyama and many others are modern day miracles. One commentator argued that for Mbeki to say Rome wasn't built in a day is a lame excuse because given the technological advances in engineering today, Rome could have been built in six months.
The argument for a change in leadership is that the Mbeki economic ideal has created massive poverty and resulted in a fraction of comrades becoming filthy rich mostly at the expense of underpaid workers. It has created a serious dependence on the state for social delivery, including food parcels, housing, electricity, water and support grants. Slogans like 'we didn't join the struggle to remain poor' emerged during his reign and even though he regularly rhetorically dismisses them, some of the benefits are closer to home.
How does Zuma then fit into the whole puzzle? Zuma the former Robben Island prisoner comes across as the messiah of poor people. The non-academic whose intelligence often surpases that of academics who have made careers out of prophecying his downfall. Zuma the operative who made more underground missions into South Afrika during the liberation struggle and met people in their own habitat while Mbeki was getting schooled in political economy. Zuma the man who has 'no money' he depends on his sympathisers to fundraise for him while he got a golden handshake after his dismissal and his lawyers are paid for by the state. Zuma who lives in Forrest Town and Enkandla while the people who support him, often with money live in townships and shacks and use public transport while he's usually seen in expensive German sedans. One political commentator alleges that the ANC in exile selected a breed of comrades who were specifically trained for leadership in institutions overseas, notably Sofia and Lumumba Universities to prepare them for government. "Zuma and others were not chosen for this task because the ANC needed to maintain support outside of government. It needed to continue with its political programmes while the chosen will be governing the country on the policies of the movement. Zuma is one of those who were not meant for government leadership but to strengthen the movement. He knows that and now he's deliberately confusing people who were inside the country and know nothing about such a project", the source, who is a member of the Mpumalanga Youth League Provincial Executive Committee alleges. "He was deliberately put in-touch with the people to maintain that contact. And now, against the project he aspires to be president, he should tell people the truth". But then according to allegations published in a Sunday newspaper eleven years ago such opportunities to study further were reportedly also offered along tribal lines, which has given birth to the much-hyped Xhosa Nostra and the fact that you cannot challenge the 'beast' because it is an educated animal.
So, Zuma is aware that he was not meant for greatness inside of government politics but now he's got ambitions even though he keeps on denying it. The next logical question is, when the ANC faithful walk out of the main gates at the University of Limpopo will their man be in power or not, given that Mbeki does not wield (by ANC design) the kind of grassroots support that Zuma has? And it is the branches, not the IMF and World Bank that are going to elect the leadership. Did what Public Enterprise Minister Alec Erwin tell BBC's Hard Talk this week about Zuma going to have difficulty heading the ANC provide any clues about the results of the December conference?
Here's an analysis of why Zuma might not be the man hoisted high come December 2007. The undeniable international truth is that if the United States of America coughs, the whole world catches cold, including South Afrika. And, the United States is supposed to cough in December this year when it becomes apparent who is going to secure the Democratic Party ticket to the White House and late next year when the Americans go to the polls. Currently there are two candidates running for the Democratic nomination and presidency of the US, Barrack Obama (D) and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D). This is where the battle in Limpopo will be won and lost. Commentators are quick to note that, even though George W Bush is not going to run for the presidency next year, Obama does not stand a chance because as disorientated as the Americans are about the conservatives the running Capitol Hill, they are not ready for a black president. Another group alleges that while they might not be ready for a woman president, they could rather opt for a woman than a black man or a Republican conservative.
Clinton has chances of becoming the next US president because Angela Merkel swiftly moved to become the president of Germany and the US electorate might suddenly see no malice in being led by a woman given that during the Reagan era even Britain was led by (Madame) Margareth Thatcher. Ireland under Mary Robinson experienced relative calm. Israel was led by Golda Meir during one of its difficult times. Liberia is led by an American educated Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf which can boost Clinton's chances of occupying the White House. Zimbabwe's deputy president Joyce Mujuru comes across as a moderate and a likely successor for Robert Mugabe. It suddenly looks as if this is the millenium of the female leaders.
The question will be; when Clinton comes to power, what will her attitude towards a Zuma-led government be whose judgment rating might not fulfil America's social barometre? Remember that the US-South Africa Biannual Commission which was led by former US deputy president Al Gore and deputy Thabo Mbeki never convened with Zuma as deputy-president after Mandela left and Mbeki came to power. It was a commission held at deputy president level during the Democrat's White House stint. Political analysts argued at the time that it was because the Americans felt Zuma did not carry enough clout to can negotiate intricate trade issues with them even though nine years ago he was honoured with the Nelson Mandela Award for Outstanding Leadership in Washington DC.
The question would be; will Clinton's attitude to Zuma change? Will South Afrikans risk international marginalisation because they elected a president who is only popular on the township streets and not at the White House and Zurich? Remember that Zuma's undoing is his own make, that confession about taking a shower after having had sex with an HIV positive woman. That's classical bad judgment. While the electorate will forgive him for taking a shower and coming out HIV non-reactive which suggests that a shower really does minimise the risk, one can't be sure that the market forces and Sussex educated power-brokers in finance capitals have the same forgiving attitude, let alone respect. Is any country's pride worthy of being led by a president whose 10-minute sex session was broadcast to the whole world? This are some of the nitty-gritties the electorate in Limpopo will need to deal with. In its Strategies and Tactic Discussion Document the ANC touches on this realities, "In a situation in which an exploitative socio-economic system rules the waves, the danger should not be underestimated of widening wars of conquest and other more sophisticated means of subversion in search of resources, markets and geo-political advantage. This imperils sovereignty of smaller and weaker nations. Attached to this phenomenon is the assertion of shallow and populist ideologies such as the so-called 'clash of civilisations', which seeks to justify political crusades of blood and gore. By-products of this mindset include racial profiling and the undermining of the rule of law both in domestic and global conduct."
It is that politcal minefield that whoever is making noise for the benefit of the media today will have to navigate together with his comrades come December. 'Siyo hlangana eLimpopo' will shift from being a factional warcry to a reality that will set the tone for the direction the country will take in the coming 10 years, whether in sync with the rest of the world or despised due to a president who can't command enough respect. Obviously some countries will choose to engage South Africa through the deputy president, resulting in a ceremonial president who only chairs cabinet meetings while all other commissions and investment forums are chaired by his ministers. The question will be; is that the kind of leader South Afrika's young democracy needs? Does this country need a man who leads from the front or the back?
However, Mbeki would also be foolhardy to think that someone in their right mind and not coming from the equally dead South African National Civics Organisation would even suggest a third term for him. A YCL member from Mpumalanga, when asked who can be a compromise candidate in this political quicksand responded, "Nkosazana (Zuma) is a non-starter. (Phumzile) Mlambo-Nquka knows she's not even on the top 30. It can't be Tokyo (Sexwale) because he's lost touch with the people and even when he was a premier there was a cloud hanging over him. It can't be (Cyril) Ramaphosa because he's very much into business and is not known to many youth league members. It can't be Matthews Phosa because he's been out of active politics for long. Our compromise candidates are four, Jacob, Gedleyihlekisa, Msholozi and Zuma. No compromise". And THE ROAD TO LIMPOPO is paved and tarred- get on the bus.