Mbeki is back
Carien du Plessis, Mmanaledi Mataboge, Mandy Rossouw and Sabelo Ndlangisa
Johannesburg - Former president Thabo Mbeki made a dramatic jump back into local politics after almost three years of self-imposed silence.
Mbeki was fired as president in September 2008.
In recent weeks he has re-emerged on the domestic political scene in a more aggressive way than ever before.
» He slammed Advocate Willem Heath for stating that he was behind President Jacob Zuma’s corruption and rape charges.
Heath’s sudden departure after 17 days in office as head of the special investigating unit was seen as a vindication of Mbeki’s long-standing denial of conspiring against Zuma;
» He appeared at the ANC’s 100-year bash in Bloemfontein last week to thunderous applause; and
» ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema asked him to get more involved in domestic politics.
City Press understands that Mbeki will not seek an active leadership position in the ANC, but he could be influential in the party in the lead-up to the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung in December by advising party leaders on leadership matters and playing a mediation role between the warring factions.
Ten sources ranging from ANC national executive committee (NEC) members to provincial leaders, business people and ANC lobbyists told City Press they could see Mbeki returning to play a role in the party, but they differed over the role the former president would play.
» An advisory or mediatory role as renewed infighting over the party’s leadership threatens to tear it apart;
» A rallying point for support to topple Zuma because Mbeki is the “better devil you know”;
» A “mascot” for the new coalition of the wounded led by ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, with Zuma as the “common enemy”, but it’s unlikely that Mbeki would allow this; or
» A candidate for ANC chairperson or an alternative president should Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe decline to contest, as at least one faction’s list of possible candidates suggests.
A government official who lobbies for Sport Minister Fikile Mbalula to replace Gwede Mantashe as the party’s secretary general said Mbeki’s return was a boost for the anti-Zuma group in the ANC.
This group has begun attracting those who were supporting Mbeki when he lost to Zuma in Polokwane.
“We are using his machinery now to help what we already have.
“The people in his machinery that lost in Polokwane are coming back to be actively involved in the party.
Fight not over
“The fight between Mbeki and Zuma is not over. The strategy is that as they concentrate on Julius, our people must move towards [winning] Mangaung.”
Provincial sources indicate that Mbeki still has some support in the OR Tambo, Amathole and Buffalo City regions in his home province, the Eastern Cape.
The province is the ANC’s second largest with one-fifth of the party’s total membership.
But ANC veteran and NEC member Pallo Jordan said Mbeki would not contest any positions because he had already “reached the top of the tree”.
As former president Mbeki is already an ex-officio member of the NEC, but he has not attended the committee’s meetings since he was voted out in December 2007.
Jordan said he would welcome Mbeki’s return.
"He could just show up.
"If he now starts attending NEC meetings, I will say ‘it’s about bloody time’.”
The applause from ANC members on Sunday, according to Mbeki sympathisers, was an expression of how much he is still loved in the ANC.
At several points in the celebration, applause and ululation for Mbeki was louder than that for Zuma – a previously unheard of occurrence.
Supporters of Zuma, however, told City Press they were worried that Mbeki would steal the limelight from Zuma, whose popularity has waned, and whose watershed speech on January 8 was derided by most analysts as uninspiring.
Mbeki’s choice of attire – a striped shirt and tie instead of an ANC T-shirt – played up his identity as a statesman, rather than just another ANC leader.
Mbeki sat next to Motlanthe at the ANC’s gala dinner, suggesting to some ANC members a close relationship between the two.
Mbeki was supposed to speak at the dinner, but at least two ANC staffers involved in organising the event say plans were changed after orders from Zuma.
Some believe Zuma felt threatened by Mbeki.