Road to Polokwane

2007-12-11 00:00

WITH the ANC’s five-year conference at Polokwane due to start over the coming weekend, all public discourse this week is likely to be in terms of what might, or might not, happen. Unlike the previous three conferences, at which the elections of first Nelson Mandela and then Thabo Mbeki as ANC president were foregone conclusions, the result is far from cut and dried. The party is faced with making major choices, the outcome of which will determine not only its own future direction but will reverberate throughout the country, the sub-continent and, indeed, the continent.

As IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi has observed, the succession battle within the ANC has sidetracked South Africans from more pertinent issues. Irrespective of whether Mbeki or Jacob Zuma prevails, the outcome and the bitterness of the losing side is also likely to prove a distraction from business as usual. It is this sort of deep division which Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has tried to pre-empt with the suggestion that the two rivals remain in their present positions for the next five years and then quit the leadership. She has got a point. There is a great need for the ANC to complete the transformation from struggle organisation to stable social-democratic political party. It requires a new mind-set and a new post-struggle leadership that looks to the future, rather than leaders still caught up too much in the past.

Moreover, both candidates come to Polokwane with considerable baggage. In the case of Mbeki, it is his prickly, remote and autocratic leadership style, his blindness to HIV as the cause of Aids and his failure to grasp the Zimbabwean nettle. Zuma, for his part, has a possible charge of corruption hanging over him and while he was acquitted on the rape charge, the evidence produced in court as well as his own admissions, while they might make him a cartoonist’s dream, cast doubt on his suitability as presidential material. Also worrying about Zuma is the shoal of pilot fish who gather about him for what they can get out of the association. One of these characters, Schabir Shaik, is now safely behind bars, but there are plenty of others, willing and ready to exploit their connections for their own ends.

But whatever happens after Polokwane, democracy must be the winner.

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