Only when both Mbeki and Zuma are removed from the fray will the ANC be able to revitalise South Africaby Andrew Feinstein / January 20, 2008 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2008 issue of Prospect Magazine
Jacob Zuma is a barrel-chested man with a large, open face which often breaks into a brilliant smile. Down the right side of his face is a long scar which attests to a life of struggle and hardship. Arriving illiterate on Robben Island in his early twenties, Zuma revealed not only a great capacity for learning but a political shrewdness and toughness that after his release saw him rise to become head of ANC intelligence, in 1987.
With the advent of democracy in South Africa, Zuma became ANC leader in his Zulu-dominated home province of KwaZulu-Natal. He served as the province’s economics minister before being made the country’s deputy president by President Thabo Mbeki in 1999.
But in 2005, Zuma’s financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was sentenced to 15 years in jail for corruption based on a relationship of “mutually beneficial symbiosis” with the deputy president. Mbeki fired his former ally, who soon faced his own corruption trial and was also charged with the rape of a young, HIV-positive family friend.
In May 2006, Zuma was acquitted of the rape charges, and a few months later his corruption trial was struck from the roll for procedural reasons, although prosecutors are about to re-charge him. Zuma and his supporters claim these legal difficulties were the work of Mbeki, attempting to prevent Zuma undermining the president’s quest for an unprecedented third term as ANC leader.
Mbeki, who is constitutionally prevented from serving a third term as South Africa’s president when his current mandate expires in early 2009, hoped to continue as party president. He would then have been able to handpick a successor and remain the power behind the presidential throne. But Zuma, despite his legal difficulties, appears, at the time of writing, likely to defeat the incumbent at the ANC electoral conference in mid-December.
This battle for the leadership of the party has torn the ANC apart, engendering factionalism, division and open hatred that has left this once-fêted liberation movement of Mandela, Tambo and Luthuli facing its gravest ever crisis.
The fact that Zuma is likely to emerge victorious is more a reflection of Mbeki’s failings than of Zuma’s qualities. Where Zuma is a populist “man of the people,” Mbeki has been a detached, autocratic technocrat during the almost ten years that he has led the ANC.