The Real Succession Debate
Opinion and Analysis
Judging by this week's events in the trial of Durban businessman Schabir Shaik, South Africa is in for a harrowing few months as more details about his relations with the second-most powerful politician in the land are revealed.
Not only did the state use state-of-the-art technology in its quest to prove that a corrupt relationship between Shaik and Deputy President Jacob Zuma existed, but Shaik himself admitted to bankrolling the deputy president.
However, Shaik said he was merely helping out a friend whose financial state was "parlous". And, he added, the bailout was necessary to keep Zuma in politics.
Over the next eight weeks, we are likely to hear more damning details revealed to the court.
Predictably — or co-incidentally — the air is filled with speculation about who will step into President Thabo Mbeki's shoes when he leaves office in 2009.
Zuma's supporters are convinced that the whole trial is a plot to prevent him from moving up into the top office, and speak of dark plots involving unnamed forces.
There is also a view — inside and outside the ANC — that by the end of the trial, Zuma will be so damaged that the country will need to look elsewhere for Mbeki's successor.
Yet another view — albeit on the fringes of the political debate — is that we should think about amending the Constitution in order to give Mbeki a third term.
Fortunately the ANC is more mature than that, and is unlikely to mess with one of the world's best constitutions.
We maintain that there is no leadership crisis in South Africa. The struggle against apartheid nurtured many strong individuals who could be chosen and who subscribe to the values of good governance and democracy.
If indeed there is an underhand plot to unseat Zuma, the ANC should use its structures to investigate any breaches of its codes. If it is proved, as some in the party allege, that state resources are being used to discredit Zuma, then criminal investigations should be instituted.
But the ANC would do well to focus its energies on a more pressing issue for the country than pondering conspiracy theories.
And even though we should be discussing Mbeki's successor as we begin the road to 2009, this is not the most urgent matter on the nation's agenda. Mbeki has another four years left in his presidency and is, to quote an ANC leader, of "sound mind and body".
The more urgent discussion for South Africa right now should be about who should succeed Zuma as deputy president of the country.
The ANC and its allies need to honestly confront the issue of whether the second-highest office in the land should be occupied by somebody who owes his political life to business interests and who sees no problem with his lifestyle being bankrolled by a private businessman.
It is obviously a much harder issue to deal with than the distant question of who will take over the reins of the republic in 2009. But it is an issue that needs to be tackled urgently if we are serious about creating a decent society.
With acknowledgement to the Sunday Times.