January 8, 2008

Mbeki, Zuma in talks on ANC power handover

President Thabo Mbeki and African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma have had their first one-on-one meeting since the party's elective conference at Polokwane. The meeting comes amid deep divisions in the party after the conference. A series of top-level meetings to manage the transition between the outgoing and the newly elected leadership of the ruling party has taken place in recent days. The two centres of power created by having different presidents of the party and the state is likely to bedevil relations between Luthuli House and the Union Buildings. The NPA's move against Zuma will no doubt feature in any discussions on the handover.
ANC and government officials have so far not spoken about the details of meeting. ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said: "I cannot speak on the matter because I might be breaking certain protocols." And Treasurer-general Matthews Phosa said it was not "unnatural" for the two men to meet. ANC sources also said that "conditions" had forced Mbeki and Zuma to meet. "They have to discuss how the handover is going to work and the practicalities have to be sorted out," one source said. Mbeki's spokesman, Mukoni Ratshitanga, was "unaware" of the meeting, saying all queries should be referred to the ANC.
Besides of this meeting the party's new national executive committee (NEC) had also held its first gathering. The NEC's meeting comes as tension rises over Zuma being charged again. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has upped the ante when it responded to a call by former chief justice Arthur Chaskalson and veteran human rights lawyer George Bizos, who warned Zuma's detractors and supporters to stop interfering in the work of the country's courts. Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said although the views of the two jurists had to be "taken seriously" because Cosatu shared their views on the independence of the judiciary, their concern was misplaced. "Their concerns about the independence of the judiciary are directed to the wrong door. Cosatu fully supports an independent judiciary and shares the judge's fears that it is under threat. "We believe, however, that they should not be criticising Cosatu but the people who are manipulating the judicial system for their own political ends."
Zuma's supporters have continually argued that he will not get a fair trial and that the NPA has misused its power. Zuma's trial, set for August, coincides with the start of the ANC's process of selecting its presidential candidate for the country's 2009 general election. His supporters make much of the timing of the trial and have used this as part of their argument, saying his legal woes are a ruse to prevent him from succeeding Mbeki. Despite Zuma's impending trial, the NEC still had to get on with the business of electing the party's new national working committee, which runs the party from day to day. The NEC also had to appoint new members who will sit on important sub-committees such economic transformation, social transformation and organisational development. Zuma's supporters on the 86-member NEC vowed not to be "de-focused" by the ANC president's legal troubles and pledged to move swiftly to implement key resolutions adopted at the Polokwane conference. These include integrating the Scorpions into the police, and scrapping Mbeki's powers to appoint premiers and executive mayors. The NEC will also be hard-pressed to begin the process of healing the party, a task that will be made more difficult by Zuma's coming trial. (Business Day, Johannesburg)

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