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The question of two centres of power will be on the table, writes ERIC NAKI

By unknown | Oct 24, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

The hot-potato political issues around the so-called "two centres of power", and moves to wrest from President Thabo Mbeki his powers to appoint premiers and executive mayors, promise a lively debate in Limpopo. And a chance to enrich the organisation's colourful 95-year history.

The hot-potato political issues around the so-called "two centres of power", and moves to wrest from President Thabo Mbeki his powers to appoint premiers and executive mayors, promise a lively debate in Limpopo. And a chance to enrich the organisation's colourful 95-year history.

Mbeki's monopoly on the appointment of provincial leaders is being challenged from within - a constitutional imperative that presents a hard lesson for the ANC.

The question seems to be: Should the party bow to pressure to alter its president's term of office to only two and reduce the presidential powers?

The night of the long knives is falling on the ANC as its December 15 national conference nears. Last weekend's fisticuffs between ANC Youth League (ANCYL) and South African Students Congress (Sasco) members in Limpopo gave literal meaning to "going for the jugular".

Could it be the preview of what to expect?

A vociferous thrust for the new order comes from the vocal ANCYL and the party's own strategic alliance partners, Cosatu and the SACP, who demand that Mbeki should let go of the reigns in Zuma's favour.

The ANC conference is bound to put the question of two-centres of power on the table and pronounce clearly on the matter - for good or bad.

Aubrey Matshiqi, a political analyst, in a paper entitled: "Towards an Agenda for a new Organisational Culture and Tradition", says the two-centres debate is driven by a tension between those who see benefit in either option. Each side sees the other advancing or undermining private interests.

He says the ANC must choose either to separate the two posts or unite them around the same individual.

Matshiqi says the national executive committee should be the deployer to government, but the process must be insulated against NEC distortions that may result in patronage.

As it will be a challenge to manage and harmonise the relationship between two centres, relying on the NEC will be crucial in a separated scenario. But he argues that flexibility is the best medicine.

"The party must leave the door open for the election as head of state for one who was not elected party president, in case it is not in the interests of the state or the nation to endorse the electoral outcome of the ANC national conference, by uniting the two centres of power in the wrong person," says Matshiqi.

Inspired by the constitutional requirement that the president serve only two terms, the pressure is based on the desire by the left for Mbeki to give way to Zuma sooner rather than later.

This is a pre-emptive measure to prevent the ANC president from interfering or making governing difficult for Zuma, should he become the country's president in 2009.

They prefer to have the two posts occupied by the same person.

The challenge for both camps is that two centres of power will unavoidably open up if Mbeki is ousted. Mbeki will remain the president of the country, while Zuma, if elected, will head the ANC.

So, for some 15 months until elections in 2009, we are likely to see the two in play.

The question is will the conference, or the left, ask Mbeki to vacate the country's presidency as well, should he lose in Limpopo.

All this will depend on whether the Zuma camp dominates in Polokwane or not.

But one thing is for sure, neither Mbeki nor Zuma will feature anywhere on the final electoral list should either side run the show at the gathering.

Furthermore, the conference has to grapple with where the power to appoint premiers and executive mayors should rest.

Zuma's supporters cannot wait to wrest those powers from Mbeki or his office.

The idea of centralising the appointment of premiers and mayors was meant to deal with infighting and political feuding at provincial and municipal levels.

But later, some saw this as part of Mbeki's hidden agenda to build an empire of lackeys around him to keep him in power.

Matshiqi maintains it causes conflict when the president appoints as premier someone who was not elected provincial chairman by branch delegates in a provincial conference.

"The president of the party must align his choice to the democratic decision of the provincial conference or branch delegates," says Matshiqi.

Anthony Butler, professor of public policy at the University of Cape Town, says the anomaly with two centres is that it is not clear where the final decisions are taken or where the issues really emanate from.

"At the same time, those who advocate for one centre of power will have difficulty arguing against two.

The ANC might look at going for a compromise candidate for its presidency," said Butler.

Tokyo Sexwale has emerged as third candidate in the race and is seen as a compromise figure.

The name of Cyril Ramaphosa may emerge at the conference as well.

Although Ramaphosa indicated his unavailability, he may be pushed on to the stage from the floor.

A win by either Mbeki, Sexwale or Ramaphosa will not settle the succession debate.

Instead the left will shout aluta continua until Zuma mounts the throne.

Even Butler believes the succession battle will not end in Limpopo.


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