December 14, 2007

ANC elects possible new leaders / Mbeki, Zuma lack qualities to lead, says Tutu

All is set for South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party to elect a possible new leader at the national conference in the provincial capital of Polokwane. Party deputy president Jacob Zuma who is widely tipped to win the leadership contest will square off against President Thabo Mbeki who is running for an unprecedented third term as party president. Traditionally, the ANC party leader effectively becomes the national president due to the overwhelming support the ANC enjoys. However and although Mbeki is eligible to run for party leader for a third term, he is constitutionally barred to do so since he would have served two full terms as national president.
Before the congress, President Mbeki had warned that the bitter contest could destroy the party that helped end apartheid. "If division leads to retribution, that's what will destroy the ANC ... Part of our responsibility is to avoid such an outcome," Mbeki told the Mail & Guardian newspaper. With some 4.000 voting delegates expected to descend the ANC leadership conference, Mbeki denied he was intolerant of dissent and bemoaned the emphasis on personalities over policies in his contest against Jacob Zuma. While he would not be drawn on his chances of victory, Mbeki said in a newspaper interview that his prospects were being undermined by negative perceptions about his style of leadership. "You've had allegations about the centralisation of power, the abuse of state power, the president taking decisions on his own and marginalising the ANC and the alliance, not allowing open discussion at meetings of the NEC (national executive committee)," he told the Mail and Guardian weekly. "If, as an ordinary member, I was told this by someone credible, whose word I had no reason to doubt, I would vote against that person." Asked whether people were afraid to confront him because they feared him, Mbeki replied: "I've heard this and I don't understand it. Do I look as if I've got horns? It's said that I block and inhibit open discussion - that's puzzling to me; it's completely untrue."
Deputy President Mlambo-Ngcuka said she expected the five-day gathering "to be one of the most difficult conferences we've ever had". But she said the results from the preliminary rounds of the contest should not necessarily lead to Mbeki's demise. "I think President Mbeki is going to win. People mistake nomination for an election," she told public radio.
Zuma, who is still deputy ANC president, has been spending the final days of the campaign on his home turf in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province, meeting Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini and seeking the blessing of local community leaders and churchmen. One Church leader who will not be supporting Zuma is Tutu who said his acquittal last year of raping a family friend half his age could not disguise the fact that the 65-year-old had abused a position of trust. "We're very worried that this leader had relations with a woman who regarded him as a parent and, although he is very likeable, we have to ask ourselves: 'What is happening in the ANC?'" Although Zuma was cleared of rape, his legal troubles are still not over as he faces the possibility of being charged with corruption after recently losing a bid to have a series of search warrants declared illegal. Tutu, the former archbishop of Cape Town, also added his voice to accusations that Mbeki does not tolerate criticism. "Criticism and debate have always been the lifeblood of democracy," he said. (The Mail & Guardian, Johannesburg /rts)

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