The Battle of Polokwane and the Future of South Africa

The ANC's 52nd National Conference in Polokwane, South Africa has entered its third day. The voting for the hotly contested ANC presidency and other leadership positions has ended. The results, which will most definitely determine the future president of South Africa, are expected to be announced later on today. South African bloggers have not been silent about this historic conference of the South African ruling party.

Nik notes the complete absence of white South Africans:

There are a couple of things that have struck me as interesting this past weekend about the ANC presidential struggle in Polokwane*. [*for offshore readers: an obscure provincial capital in the northern part of SA.]

Listening to the chat lines, the newscasts on radio, and observing via many television networks, the following thoughts came to mind.

The first was the almost trivial reality that the entire affair was is and shall be driven by dark skinned people mostly, overwhelmingly in fact, of ethnic origin. With the exception of the odd [so-called] ‘white’ skinned newscaster from the BBC or similar, and a random handful of tokenist honorary black podium persons ‘white’ does not exist in Polokwane.

When someone in New Zealand sent me an SMS to ask me where Polokwane was I had difficulty for a moment remembering what it was once called in an era when a gathering of the momentous level represented by this particular leadership contest would have been exclusively white.

I would hypothesise here that Polokwane represents a watershed in the evolution of the new South Africa. Before Polokwane all defect was blamable on honkys and Apartheid. After Polokwane all defects are self-made and sustaining. Apartheid is dead long live togetherhate.

He compares the South African president, Thabo Mbeki with Jan Smuts, one of the proponents of segregation between black and whites in South Africa:

Now I have always seen a certain analogy between the former [often despised] leader of SA, Jan Smuts and the present leader of transformed SA, Thabo Mbeki. Both leaders loved to strut the world stage and were/are regarded as major players by those outside the country punching far above their homeland’s natural weight. Both neglected their home turf, and both consequently aroused antagonism amongst their own supporters; in different ways perhaps, but no less fatally…

The battle for the ANC presidency is between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, the former Deputy President. Zuma is more likely to emerge as the winner. Eric writes, President Jacob Zuma:

Only those with their head in the clouds, would not have heard about the nail biting race between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma for leader of the ANC.

It’s been a fascinating few months watching the ANC succession race develop – the new elected leader of the ANC will (unless some dramatic events unfold) assume the presidency of South Africa in 2009.

And it’s a close race – Tokyo Sexwale, who was a contender in the early stages, is now backing Jacob Zuma.

The voting is taking place in Polokwane in the Limpopo today and results should be known later today or tomorrow. The first time I heard that Jacob Zuma had a serious chance of winning the ANC leadership was at a business breakfast about 2 or 3 months ago when DA leader Helen Zille hinted in her speech that Jacob Zuma as the next South African president was a definate possibility.

How will things change in South Africa if Jacob Zuma becomes president of South Africa – I don’t think anyone knows.

Carol Patton is blogging the conference for the Financial Mail:

Thabo Mbeki and his supporters must know they have lost the electoral battle – but they are not going down without a fight.

In what was obviously intended as a show of strength, TM [Thabo Mbeki] supporters from all provinces held a 1000-strong impromptu rally in the sports stadium adjoining the conference venue today at lunch time, pledging to keep up the fight and keep spirits high. They cut an impressive picture as they toyi-toyied back to the hall in formation singing their rousing anthem, a liberation song praising Thabo Mbeki.

But numbers are sure to be against them: there are more than 4000 delegates, the overwhelming majority of which have already rowdily shown their support for Jacob Zuma. Zuma supporters hastily convened their own rally on the grass outside the venue in response to their opponents. One of the party’s bright young intellects said that the refusal by the leadership of TM caucus to stand down was not so much that they thought they would win but that they had to do it.
”It’s a message to JZ to realize that he is not supported by everyone. They are preparing to be an opposition.”

Ray Hartely of the Sunday Times discusses the “nightmare scenarios”:

1. Mbeki wins vote = Gets third term as ANC president= Alliance plus populists split off to form left opposition = SA has proper political competion in parliament for the first time = Mbeki grooms sucessor for 2009, probably Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Weak president, but not a bad outcome.
2. Mbeki wins vote = Gets third term as ANC president = Alliance plus populists split off to form left opposition = SA has proper political competion in parliament for the first time = Mbeki amends constitution and stands for third term in 2009, ostensibly to keep Zuma threat at bay in national interest. Not good.
3. Zuma wins vote = Purges Mbeki crowd = Gets tried by Scorpions = Leads popular rebellion against criminal justice system = succeeds = Becomes 2009 president of country with no hope of fighting crime. Not good. Move meagre pension into offshore fund.
4. Zuma wins vote = Purges Mbeki crowd = Gets tried by Scorpions = Leads popular rebellion against criminal justice system = fails = Deputy Kgalema Motlanthe takes over = Motlanthe presidency in 2009. Not a bad outcome.

After years of denial, reality bites the ANC at last, declares Brendan Boyle:

After years of denial, the ANC is finally unable to escape the reality of division within it’s ranks.
“We are (worried), definitely. There is no fluffing around that now. In the past we have never had this kind of huge contestation around entrenched positions,” ANC spokesman Smuts Ngonyama said in a radio interview.
At the last conference in Stellenbosch, the leadership slate was largely pre-negotiated.
“There was consensus, there was negotiation, there was horse-trading even before the conference,” Ngonyama said with an obvious implication that this was the preferred mechanism.
Now it’s a shoot-out, but is that such a bad thing?
Idasa analyst Steven Friedman insists this is just healthy democracy at work. He has been bending any ear in reach to argue that the ANC should be celebrating this change, not lamenting it.

Ray Hartley condems the behaviour of Zuma supporters who booed Thabo Mbeki and his other members of his camp:

There is shock among ordinary people at the sight of chanting ANC members shouting down President Thabo Mbeki and his cabinet ministers in what appears to have become a vindictive assault on his person and his leadership.
Mbeki’s presidency has had its flaws and there have been some grounds for criticisms of some of his policy failings.
His decision to seek another term in office instead of seeking and grooming a successor early on in his presidency has backfired dramatically and the ANC has signalled it wants change.
But none of this justifies the boorish behaviour of Jacob Zuma’s supporters who have sent an alarming signal about the kind of political culture that will accompany a Zuma presidency, should this materialise, in the coming days.

Mbeki was stunned and distressed:

President Thabo Mbeki was stunned by the unruly behaviour of his young opponents on the opening day of the ANC conference, says party spokesman Smuts Ngonyama.
ANC Chaierman Terror Lekota was booed and jeered on the opening day and Mbeki was heckled during his presidential review. Pro-Mbeki speakers were shouted down at times and gangs of Zuma supporters rallied repeatedly with posters and Zuma t-shirts despite a prohibition on personalised campaigning.
Though his face has been a picture of distress at times, Mbeki has said nothing about the rowdy showdowns between his supporters and the more noisy band backing Jacob Zuma.

Eddie Both writes about the mistreatment of journalists at the conference. Journalists were not allowed in the voting area and some were involved in a scuffle with ANC security officials:

Let me tell my colleagues that not even in PW Botha’s time were we ever threatened in this way when we covered theNationalist Party conference. We were even allowed inside the conference venue and not a kilometrfe away that I understand my colleagues are restricted to. Only once I felt physically threatened and that was during an AWB (Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging) meeting when luckily AWB leader Eugene TerreBlanche intervened.

To my fellow colleagues a word of advice: if this is what awaits us, God forbid!

Here is the list of candidates for the top six positions and their respective camps from Guy McLaren:

Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma

Deputy President:
Kgalema Motlanthe (Zuma camp) and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (Mbeki camp)

National Chairperson:
Joel Netshitenzhe (Mbeki camp) and Baleka Mbete (Zuma camp)

Gwede Mantashe (Zuma camp) and Mosiuoa Lekota (Mbeki camp)

Deputy Secretary-General:
Thoko Didiza (Mbeki camp) and Thandi Modise (Zuma camp)

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (Mbeki camp) and Mathews Phosa (Zuma camp)


  • Rob

    The change in presidency of the ANC should be viewed in a positive light. Considering the policies of “racial seperation” as implemented by TB & his “dedicated followers of fashion” (the political elite) life can only get better for the majority of South Africans. Let us all now hope that President JZ is capable of seeing through the illusion of racial segregation / favourtism as practised & implemented by his predecessor.

  • One wonders how many votes for Zuma were rather “Anti-Mbeki” than “Pro-Zuma”…

  • I too think its positive that Mbeki was defeated. I am on my ouut now to get the views of the public about the issue and the fact that Zuma has been charged. I look forward to an interesting few interviews.

  • Rob

    One should consider the possibility that the Zuma win was strategically staged by the ANC in order to procure further grass root support for the party. It should not be forgotten that if the ANC manages to aquire a certain majority during the next election,67% if my memory serves me correctly,they shall be legally entitled to rewrite the South African constitution – (as has transpired in Zimbabwe to the north). It would appear apparent that Mbeki alone did not have the following to successfully reach this goal, however, with the additional support that Zuma can now generate & mobilise on behalf of the party, this scenario should be seen as a realistic eventuality.

  • Dingalo

    How interesting. You don’t need to be a social scientist to work out that the level of white representation in the ANC is a reflection of the demographics and socio-politics of the country and not of active “apartheid” policies by the ANC leadership. Isn’t it ironic that such comments are made on the results of a dispute which were presented to the entire world by a white woman?

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