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SOUTH Africa

After Mandela, what next?

by James Brew (1,005 words)

The African National Congress leadership is moving cautiously as its crucial December national conference draws near. The 50th national conference on 16-20 December in Mmabatho, in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa.

Deputy President Thabo Mbeki will almost certainly take over from Nelson Mandela as president of the ANC, a post that will catapult him into South Africa's presidency in 1999. Most executive functions have already been ceded to Mbeki's office, with Mandela increasingly applying himself to the non-executive roles of the presidency. The powers and functions assembled in and around Mbeki's office are formidable. They include the remnants of the Reconstruction and Development programme, the office on the status of women, the national youth commission, a socio-economic co-ordinating unit, and a de facto foreign policy unit, among others.

Mbeki plays down this concentration of power. He says, " there might be some public perception about foreign policy residing in some particular place, but it doesn't. Foreign policy is approached as an integrated whole which involves the President, deputy president, foreign minister, ministers of trade and industry, finance, safety and security and intelligence".

Despite Mbeki's authority, a host of questions still surround his management style, his perspective on key questions and his political bent. Mbeki. the political architect and guardian of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear) macro-economic plan, appears untroubled by the poor economic indicators that have followed Gear's introduction. The ANC allies deplore most of its economic policies but are inhibited by the knowledge that a split would damage them far more than the ANC. The heart of the Congress of South African Trade Unions and South African Communist Programme argument is that GEAR, which the ANC reflecting the realities of the new global economy is a neo-liberal betrayal of the alliance's socialist origins.

Most analysts think the alliance will hold together, because the ANC needs union votes and SACP organisational skills. The SACP and Cosatu need the ANC power and lastly opposing Mandela's ANC before the 1999 national election smacks of treachery.

The disclosure that the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions officials were circulating lists of nominees for top African National Congress posts provoked some African National Congress members to complain that their party did not participate in the election of SACP and Cosatu officials, so why should the reverse occur? Both organisations withdrew their lists, without accepting the principle that they should not put up candidates - as the dominant partner, the ANC, gives them representation in public structures. The ANC controls candidates' names on party lists, so can easily omit troublemakers. The nomination committee's is made up of veterans Walter Sisulu and Gertrude Shope. The others are Cosatu's general-secretary, Sam Shilowa and SACP's Charles Nqakula.

The national positions at stake are that of the national chairman, deputy president, secretary-general, deputy secretary-general, and treasurer. Insiders favour current national chairman, Jacob Zuma, 56, to be Mbeki's deputy. Close to Mbeki throughout the exile years and a former Robben island prisoner, Zuma is particularly important to the ANC hierarchy because his high visibility is concrete evidence of the ethnic diversity in the organisation.

Zuma is being promoted as a veteran of the struggle who, moreover as a Zulu could do much to wrest control of Kwazulu-Natal from the IFP. Zuma is currently playing a largely regional political role, brokering a peace deal with the Inkatha Freedom Party.

Mandela at first opposed Zuma's candidacy for the deputy presidency on the grounds that he was too close to Mbeki, and that his election would revive accusations that the government was run by a Mbeki "cabal". The nomination of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela changed Mandela's mind. The party structures in Mpumalanga, Western Cape and North West provinces are now firmly behind Zuma.
Yet, cautions a political commentator, Zuma's backers must tread lightly; the fractious politics in the regions mean that attempts by the centre to corral provincial party branches behind a particular candidate can backfire.
The President's ex-wife scares the African National Congress establishment. Their nightmare is that Winnie Madikizela-Mandela will be elected deputy president of the party. Her popularity is fuelled by her close grassroots links and stress on social ideals, which the African National Congress once voiced but in practice it has failed to match. The ANC deputy presidency will give Winnie Madikizela-Mandela an official platform from which to oppose the party's leadership. She certainly will not become the nation's deputy president, because it will be Mbeki's prerogative to name his deputy, and she is the last person he would choose.

Even if she fails elected her presence as a populist leader within the African National Congress is hugely divisive. Merely by entering the contest, Winnie has accelerated the faction forming that increasingly plagues the ANC.
The national conference will be more than electing leaders. One of the challenges that the national conference will be faced with is the status of the alliance. the SACP, although an independent component of the alliance, it is not visible outside the ANC. It has not come out and embarked on its own clear programme of action as an independent political party. It is not clear what deputy president Mbeki's true views are on the alliance. While his commitment to maintaining it are not in doubt, the likelihood of him indulging more robust demands from the left-wing is. South Africans are puzzled by Mbeki, who embodies both radicalism and moderation. He is a former member of the South African Communist Party, inheriting his party's allegiance from his father Govan Mbeki, once a prisoner with Nelson Mandela on Robben Island. Currently he favours an arms length relationship with the left in the alliance.

Mbeki's advantage is that the left itself cannot yet decide whether and what extent he is an ally of a left agenda. In addition he is alert to a central weakness of Cosatu and the SACP - their failure to devise cogent policy alternatives. Mbeki's commitment to consolidating the ANC as a broad and inclusive political organisation is beyond dispute.


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PeaceLink 1997