December 9, 2005

ANC suspends deputy leader after rape charges

South Africa's ruling African National Congress suspended its deputy leader, Jacob Zuma at an emergency meeting pending his trial for rape. The party stopped short of sacking him, prompting rebukes from opposition politicians concerned about the country's commitment to women's rights. Zuma is to be tried in for allegedly assaulting a 31-year-old woman at his Johannesburg home in November. “The ANC views the charge of rape in an extremely serious light, as it goes to the heart of the kind of society that we have struggled for many decades to build. The ANC reiterates its resolute determination to end gender-based violence in all its forms and manifestations. The national working committee (NWC) was particularly sensitive to the need to safeguard the rights and dignity of the alleged victim,” the NWC said in a statement. It added that after consulting Zuma, the NWC “understands this decision to mean that he would not act nor pronounce in the capacity of deputy president of the ANC for the duration of this trial”.
The political disabling of Zuma has now again thrown open the presidential succession race - and a powerful group of African National Congress members close to President Thabo Mbeki are said to be throwing their support behind Mbhazima Shilowa, Premier of Gauteng, as their favoured candidate. However, Shilowa’s spokesperson in the ANC, Hope Papo, was non-committal when approached for comment. “The issue of succession is not a priority,” Papo said.
It is also being questioned whether Zuma’s supporters will back a new candidate and whether Mbeki will insist on making a bid for the party leadership himself or choosing a successor. It is understood that ANC secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe remains the compromise candidate of the ANC left and the party’s trade union allies. Until recently, Motlanthe was acceptable to both the Zuma and the Mbeki camps, as he was seen as above the fray.
According to a national executive committee member, Zuma’s downfall meant the contest for the presidency would intensify. The member said that while Shilowa was the preferred candidate of “some elements within the ANC”, deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka’s appointment in May 2005 could have softened support for him because she was equally popular “in business circles”. The national executive committee member also said it was “too early” to say the succession battle would be a showdown between Shilowa and Motlanthe. “At this stage, support for candidates is changing by the day.”
A leading candidate as the ANC tries to assert itself as most progressive on gender matters is Minister of Foreign Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. She is said to have been offered the deputy presidency by Mbeki after Zuma was fired, but is believed to have turned down the post in solidarity with her former husband. Dlamini-Zuma is a senior member of the ANC and of Mbeki’s Cabinet and is internationally recognised, but questions have been raised about whether she has enough popular support among ANC members to ward off any possible contest.
The outsider is ANC and ­government strategist Joel Netshitenzhe. The current head of the government policy coordinating unit, Netshitenzhe is the brains behind ANC policy discussions and has been compared to Mbeki, who played a similar role under long-time ANC president Oliver Tambo. But those close to Netshitenzhe say he does not consider himself as a candidate now but could still be groomed for the future. But he is also said to have alienated himself from Zuma backers with his unwavering support for Mbeki during the current crisis. (Mail & Guardian Online, South Africa)

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