Zuma's Popularity Undented
Mail and Guardian
The trial of Schabir Shaik will put to the test not just him and Deputy President Jacob Zuma - but a groundswell of opinion in the African National Congress and its alliance partners that Zuma should be the country's next president.
The Gauteng ANC last week opened the debate about the presidential succession within the ANC, insisting that the matter should be raised long before the 2007 ANC conference, where the new leadership will be elected.
If ANC tradition is followed, Zuma, as the current deputy president, is next in line for the presidency. But Gauteng's move to start a debate is interpreted to mean that the traditional route may not be followed in electing President Thabo Mbeki's successor.
The ANC in Gauteng argued that starting the debate now might minimise squabbling over top ANC positions at a later stage.
Many ANC structures this week indicated that they had not had an opportunity to discuss the succession issue. But, they indicated, there was overwhelming support for Zuma, who is seen as a unifying influence and is given credit for smoothing often difficult relationships in the tripartite alliance.
However, some in the ANC question whether popularity should be the sole criterion, or whether a skills profile of the suitable candidate should be drawn up and a leader elected on that basis.
Support from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) for Zuma was captured in a report drawn up by its secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, last year.
"Politically the allegations of corruption against the deputy president, which have come to the fore in the past few months are most serious. They fit a pattern of being raised in the run-up of important political events. As a result of this, they themselves raise the spectre of political manipulation. Nevertheless, these allegations should be thoroughly investigated and dealt with as speedily as possible.
"The deputy president has played a critical role in maintaining the alliance behind the scenes and leading the campaign on HIV/Aids. It would be a blow to the working class if the investigations drag on or tarnish his image, or worse, if they prove to be correct," Vavi wrote.
The support was further evidenced by delegates to the Cosatu congress who sang songs asking what Zuma had done to deserve being prosecuted by the former head of the National Prosecuting Authority, Bulelani Ngcuka.
A trade union leader told the Mail & Guardian this week that labour continued to support Zuma because he was rooted in the ANC tradition, which was biased in favour of the working class.
He said it would be a serious setback for the national democratic revolution if a businessman or someone who embraced neo-liberal policies was chosen as ANC president instead of Zuma .
"Zuma may be perceived to love luxury, but all former exiled leaders enjoy lives of luxury. Zuma is most familiar with ANC traditions. Can you imagine if we had a government that favoured big business, as would likely be the case if someone like Tokyo Sexwale, Trevor Manuel or Cyril Ramaphosa became president?" he asked.
South African Communist Party spokesperson Mazibuko Jara said the party welcomed the introduction of a principled political framework within which the issue of the ANC leadership would be discussed.
"We will be making a political contribution to the process, because the leadership of the ANC is important to the interests of the working class," Jara said.
Mtholephi Mthimkhulu, spokesperson for the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal — where Zuma enjoys strong support — said that although the provincial party had not discussed succession it believed that the issue would resolve itself "within long-standing ANC traditions and culture".
"We are not panicking about what will happen when Mbeki leaves. Whoever is panicking outside the ANC does not understand our traditions. There was similar apprehension about what would happen when Oliver Tambo retired as leader. The same happened with Nelson Mandela and now with Mbeki. We will debate the issue openly and robustly at the right time," Mthimkhulu said.
Zuma himself has echoed the sentiments, telling journalists that nothing, including the presidential succession, could take place outside of the ANC's traditions.
However, the SACP's Jara indicated that this did not imply a rigid procedure. ANC traditions varied from time to time, and different circumstances required different responses.
With acknowledgements to Rapule Tabane and the Mail & Guardian.