Mbeki survives another day

2008-09-19 00:00

Kempton Park — The vicious political fight between President Thabo Mbeki and ANC leader Jacob Zuma continued into another day after neither side emerged victorious from the first day of a meeting of the ANC national executive committee at Esselen Park on the East Rand yesterday.

Although efforts by the Zuma camp to force Mbeki out were in full throttle and rumours of his imminent demise were plentiful all day, last night’s press conference on the issue called by the ANC proved to be a damp squib.

The NEC is meeting to discuss, among other things, Judge Chris Nicholson’s findings last week in the Pietermaritzburg High Court that state institutions were used in the political battle against Zuma.

Weekend Witness has learnt that the events on the East Rand are merely the part of the battle being fought in the open. The true battle rages below the surface — political trench warfare of the dirtiest type in which individuals’ roles in the liberation struggle, and in the profitable opportunities ANC connectivity has brought since 1994 — are ruthlessly exploited.

While most ANC leaders want to get rid of Mbeki and throughout yesterday everything pointed at his imminent demise, the ANC leadership was unable to affect the political execution by last night.

Mbeki wasn’t even at Esselen Park for the meeting. Rumours that he and Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka were taking legal advice about their political futures could not be confirmed.

Mbeki will soon be on his way to New York for a sitting of the UN general assembly, and is not expected at Esselen Park at all.

By last night, all indications were that the ANC leadership was divided over whether he should step down. Some in the leadership believe it would be best for party unity if Mbeki finishes his term, whereas others believe he wronged Zuma too terribly to survive politically.

Expectations were that firebrands like Youth League President Julius Malema would lead the charge against Mbeki’s continued presidency, and that Mbeki loyalists would oppose him.

This would have created an opportunity for Zuma to act as mediator and voice of reason, but it appears the aggressive fightback by the Mbeki camp scuppered those plans in the short term.

The atmosphere yesterday at Esselen Park was tense throughout. A huge press contingent gathered for the arrival of the almost 100 delegates, who met from 10 am. Rumours started doing the rounds by the afternoon, the most persistent being that Mbeki was out.

The planned press conference was delayed by two hours to 7.30 pm. Visible and audible disappointment greeted ANC secretary-general Gwede Manatshe’s announcement that no news was forthcoming. Mantashe said the NEC debate would continue after the delegates had taken a dinner break.

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