Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2006-05-17 Reporter: Karima Brown

Only Special ANC Indaba Will End Politics of Smear



Business Day

Date 2006-05-17
Reporter Karima Brown

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Events in the week since the acquittal of Jacob Zuma on rape charges prove one thing, if nothing else: the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) must convene a special national conference and place the issue of the succession before the ordinary members of the organisation.

They, the leaders, clearly cannot resolve it themselves.

The Durban High Court will probably not resolve it either, just as the Johannesburg High Court could not. In fact, courts sitting to decide criminal matters should never be looked to to provide political guidance to either the ANC or the nation. That is the job of our elected leaders. And with every passing day they fail spectacularly.

There was never any question about the fact that the succession race was going to be a dirty and ugly one. But the battle to succeed President Thabo Mbeki next year sank to a new low at the weekend when The Citizen newspaper published excerpts from the suicide letter written by Kate Mantsho, the late wife of ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma.

While Zuma is "no angel", as he said last week, and is therefore fair game for the machinations of his opponents, the same cannot be said of his dead wife. The leaking of the letter was a shameful blow to our body politic, not just to Zuma. It is also worth noting that the leaking of the document to The Citizen was especially unfortunate considering the newspaper's own history a history that gives undeserved credence to charges by Zuma and his supporters that some in the media are engaged in a conspiracy against him.

At the time the letter was written, Zuma was deputy president of SA. For six years, the letter never saw the light of day. The highest offices and most powerful institutions of state protected the "secret" of Kate Mantsho's "24 years of hell with JZ". Now that Zuma is out of favour and the number one foe of those who currently occupy the Union Buildings, it is no longer desirable for the letter to stay buried. These coincidences make it hard to counter those who peddle conspiracy as an explanation for Zuma's troubles.

The leaking of the letter seems calculated to underscore the public perception that Zuma is nothing but a backward misogynist who is incapable of treating women with respect. Coming on the back of a rape charge where the former accuser and gender activists insist that the not-guilty verdict was "wrong", Zuma is so personally compromised he cannot be fit for public office of any kind.

This is a view held by many, some of them very powerful individuals in the ANC. But it does not appear to be a view held by every ANC member. This can be judged by the hasty and relatively effortless reinstatement that Zuma won at the weekend.

Following the national executive's predictable decision to reintegrate Zuma unconditionally, his opponents will grow more desperate. In response, his supporters will go the same route. We are in for a bumpy ride.

As a tactic, the leaking of damaging personal information about one's opponents is nothing new. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's letter to Zuma a few years ago, exhorting him to intervene in a dispute between her and Mbeki, made mention of indiscreet meetings between the president and women other than the first lady. This letter found its way into the media, at great personal embarrassment to the president, the women mentioned and their own spouses. Madikizela- Mandela's own indiscretions have periodically surfaced in the media too.

In general, newspapers have been admirably careful about the role they play in this type of information finding its way into the public domain. There was widespread condemnation, from within the media itself, when veteran journalist Max du Preez publicly labelled Mbeki a "womaniser".

This week, however, reaction to The Citizen's foray into the darkest recesses of the Zuma family's history has been somewhat muted. After all, the subtext of this silence suggests, Zuma is a condemned man. When he is the target, anything goes.

Many of those who see themselves as potential successors to Mbeki, or even after him, will be wondering if they too will be subjected to the kind of personal scrutiny Zuma has been since he was foolish enough to announce his desire to take over from Mbeki.

More importantly, the political culture of the ANC, which over the years has been growing less democratic and open, will suffer a further setback by a resort to the politics of smear and scandal. Personal vilification of opponents is yet another form of silencing, a powerful weapon in the hands of tyrants who do not wish to engage with those who disagree with them.

The final arbiters in the ANC's war must not be the leadership, almost all of whom are involved in the spat. It will not be the media, nor analysts, nor opinion pollsters. It must come down to the membership of the ANC. Which is why both Mbeki and Zuma must lend their support to a call for a special national conference.

Brown is political editor.

With acknowledgements to Karima Brown and Business Day.