Zuma Indispensable in KZN
Johannesburg - ANC Deputy President Jacob Zuma, who pulled off a breakthrough this week and averted a constitutional crisis that could have embarrassed the ruling party and plunged KwaZulu-Natal into a tense atmosphere 15 months before the election, has shown he is indispensable to the ANC.
Zuma, who has strong traditional Zulu credentials as well as struggle credentials, has clearly shown he has become a "trusted negotiator" with the Inkatha Freedom Party.
At a time when provincial ANC leaders were baying for the organisation to deal with the IFP, ANC President Thabo Mbeki appears to have been mindful that the only person who could "knock" sense into the impasse was Zuma.
Letters made public this week by KZN Premier Lionel Mtshali during his address before the special sitting of the legislature showed the behind-the-scenes role that Zuma had played.
The breakthrough reached this week between the IFP and ANC has added another feather to Zuma's indispensable contribution to KwaZulu-Natal.
Zuma, who is not known for delivering poetic speeches the party president often churns out at any given time, has always emerged as a voice of reason every time the ANC faces a stand-off with the rival IFP.
Although Zuma is not known for having produced any ground-breaking policy document in the ANC, his contribution has been that of seeing himself as facilitating peace and reconciliation in volatile KwaZulu-Natal.
Eight years ago, at the height of the political violence ravaging KwaZulu-Natal and barely two years into South Africa's new democracy, former president Nelson Mandela - aware of the dangers the ongoing political violence posed in the province - turned to the then ANC chairperson in the province Jacob Zuma to start dialogue with the IFP leaders to find a long lasting peace.
Zuma took on the role of mediating between the two parties at a time when ANC leaders where suggesting they were not going to be forced into talks with the IFP through political violence.
Although at the time the two parties continued to be sceptical of each other, Zuma persisted in making political rapprochement with his party's former sworn political enemy.
The KwaZulu-Natal violence, which had pitted ANC and IFP supporters against each other for nearly a decade, had showed no signs of abating. Although Mandela failed in his mission to see Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini call a Zulu imbizo, Zuma had already developed a close relationship with the then KwaZulu-Natal province's Dr Frank Mdlalose who both helped ensure Zwelithini became non-partisan in his role as Zulu king.
As a result, Zuma found himself being embraced not only by Zwelithini but became the only ANC leader who could move around with relative ease between Zulu traditional chiefs and indunas without causing consternation among them.
He would wear Zulu traditional garb without anyone doubting his intentions.
There is no doubt Zuma's skilful engagement with the IFP and his rapprochement with Mdlalose helped pave the way for peace in the province leading up to the two movements negotiating at the highest leadership level.
He was credited with ensuring Mandela held one of the first important meetings with the Zulu monarch at the king's KwaKhangela palace near Nongoma in 1996 where Mandela conveyed his desire to see Zwelithini calling an imbizo that would hopefully reconcile rival political parties in the province.
Although IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi continued to be sceptical of Mandela's and the ANC's intentions, he held several meeting with the ANC leadership that included Zuma.
It is for this reason the ANC once again found itself seeking the services of Zuma at a time when indications pointed to KwaZulu-Natal ANC leaders Sbu Ndebele and Dumisani Makhaye opting for confrontation with the IFP in the province.
With acknowledgements to Jimmy Seepe and City Press.