High stakes

2007-11-21 00:00

The Polokwane conference at which the African National Congress will decide who is to be the party's next president - and therefore, in accordance with tradition, the next president of South Africa - looms ever closer. This week it was revealed that most ANC branches in this province have nominated ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma, with the notable exception of three branches in Groutville, the home town of former ANC president Albert Luthuli: these are supporting President Thabo Mbeki.

The differences between the two main candidates - and the divisions between their supporters - are becoming clear. On one side is Mbeki, who, although he may have appeared remote during his terms of presidential office, has been an effective president and, more often than not, a respected international statesman. Mbeki's candidacy has aroused concern in some quarters, because it indicates that, contrary to the provisions of the Constitution, he is angling for a third term.

On the other side is Zuma, a man whose appeal to ordinary people and to racial and tribal loyalties has brought him wide support, especially in his Zulu home, and whose support base remains steady despite the legal controversies that have dogged him for so long. Zuma adherents seem untroubled by the sheer want of common sense and morality in his private life as revealed during his trial for rape last year. And they apparently do not care that he's currently using the guilty man's tactic of pulling out every trick in the book to avoid corruption charges relating to the multi-billion rand arms deal. Another plus for him is the simple fact that he's not Mbeki. As the increasingly unpopular president has lost support, so sections of the disaffected may plump for Zuma as a way of ousting him.

As yet the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has not stated if Zuma will have to face new corruption charges, and there are indications that the NPA is disinclined to hurry the “painstaking process” along - although NPA spokesman Tlali Tlali said this week that any decision would be made known as soon as they are ready. A decision one way or the other is urgently needed to help clarify the matter of the leadership succession. The NPA must have the courage to make its decision known at this tense juncture. It needs to take its courage in both hands and do the right thing, soon, no matter what the consequences.

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