Mbeki May Name Three Deputies
President Thabo Mbeki may be supported in his second term of office by not one but three deputy presidents, as the president and the African National Congress (ANC) hierarchy struggle to craft a credible and smooth succession for when he leaves office in 2009.
The idea of appointing three deputies is understood to be one of a number of proposals being examined amid the apparent fears of Mbeki and party leaders that Mbeki's final term may become mired in political infighting in the race to succeed him.
The notion is also built on the probability that Deputy President Jacob Zuma has been badly damaged by the publicity surrounding his personal finances and business connections.
Zuma retains popular support, and Mbeki would find it politically difficult to drop him altogether, even though he is probably unelectable as president.
One scenario being speculated on in diplomatic, business and academic circles is that Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma and Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota would also become deputy presidents after the presidential inauguration, likely to be on April 27.
There was no indication that any decision has been made, "and only one person really knows", said one source, but it is viewed by analysts as a serious option.
Senior ANC officials declined to comment, and were apparently unaware of the notion, but showed interest in the idea.
Professor of politics at the University of the Witwatersrand Tom Lodge said the appointment of three deputy presidents would be "an elegant way" around the succession problem.
Lodge said that this would in effect give Mbeki's sanction to the three candidates, rather than to only one.
The move would also demonstrate the ANC's commitment to a broad base as it would bring a Sotho-speaker, Lekota, as well as Zulus (Zuma and Dlamini-Zuma) into the leadership race. It would also show that the leadership position was not the preserve of former exiles. As leader of the United Democratic Front, Lekota played a prominent internal role in the struggle against apartheid.
Although the constitution refers to the deputy president position in the singular, there is no constitutional provision explicitly against the appointment of more than one. Before the New National Party left the government of national unity in 1996, Mbeki and FW de Klerk were the two deputy presidents.
All the three possible deputy presidents are high on the ANC's election list, with Zuma in the No2 slot and Dlamini-Zuma at No3. However, Lekota is at No7.
With acknowledgements to Jonathan Katzenellenbogen and the Business Day.