From a Deputy to a President?
It is tough being a third-world country. You get judged by standards that do not apply to first-world countries. Take the US. As it prepares for what may be President George W Bush's last term, or even his exit, no one is demanding to know from that country's establishment who will follow him in 2008.
It is taken as a given that the US, despite the fiasco of Florida 2000, will produce a democratically elected leader.
But not so for us. As President Thabo Mbeki is about to enter the last lap of two terms, the world demands of us to tell them who will replace him in 2009.
This is despite that fact that we have a constitution that is among the best in the world and have never exhibited any inclination to act outside the constitutional framework.
It is unfair, but that is our reality. It is the same reality that has seen an organisation like the ANC adopting pure capitalistic economic policies - despite the fact that they know that a level of socialist responsibilities still lie with government.
The fact that we have today the policies that have come to be known as Gear is a result of the realisation that we cannot buck the international globalisation trend. That realisation must kick in now - even with the insistence of who will come after Mbeki.
And that is where the dilemma begins for the ANC. Assured of victory on April 14, they are the ones who must give that answer. Discussions with senior leaders reveal that it is a sensitive issue that "cannot" be discussed within the organisation.
This is because, as Deputy President Jacob Zuma has been saying at a number of rallies of late, the organisation has always produced a leader to match the time.
From Moroka to Luthuli to Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela to Mbeki, the deputy president has been telling ANC audiences that suitable individuals always emerge from within the ANC to take it to levels never seen before.
And a closer look at this list shows that deputies become presidents.
But the question will persist because while deputies such as Mandela and Mbeki went on to become presidents, they did not have the kind of baggage that Zuma is now carrying, fairly or unfairly, around allegations of corruption and an inability to handle his personal finances.
Given the level at which this country engages internationally, can we afford a president with the present kind of aura around Zuma?
It appears not. Which would necessitate the need for a succession discussion within the organisation, but which cannot take place because whoever starts it must explain to Zuma why the debate is imperative when he the deputy is next in line. He could well ask whether he was being seen as unfit for office.
And no one is prepared to do that. And so we have a nation and a world that keep asking, and an organisation paralysed by fear and respect for a leader they perceive as damaged goods for the number one office - but are too scared or too respectful to tell him.
This situation produces fertile ground for theories of how this dilemma will be dealt with. The suggestion that there may even be three deputies after April 27, as unlikely a scenario as it may be, or that Zuma may become the premier of KwaZulu-Natal, are a result of the kind of talk that is generated by the uncertainty of who will be deputy president of this country post the upcoming election.
And the ANC has said the three deputies scenario is not an option. Fine, but other theories will emerge and they may just as well appoint someone in Luthuli House who will keep denying the scenarios that will tumble out of people's imaginations as we move closer to the elections.
It is not fair on the organisation, but that unfortunately is the reality that is a result of the need to know now.
ANC leaders say the organisation has never found itself in this situation where there is no clear successor, this coupled with an environment within the organisation that does not allow discussion of the dilemma.
If it were only affecting discussion within the ANC or even within the country only, one would probably be able to say hold on until the elections. But it is also the international demand that we need to deal with.
President Mbeki does not like to be hurried, in fact he hates it, especially when his present deputy is a strong political figure. Not only that, but the allegations that would make Zuma virtually unsuitable as a future head are as yet unproven, while he has, nevertheless, admitted to some heavy borrowing.
The president can postpone this successor issue, but in the process feed the rumour mill.
Or he can be the strong leader he has always been and make his stance clear.
Which one will it be, Mr President?
With acknowledgements to Mathatha Tsedu and the City Press.