Leaders need to sit down and talk

The year comes to an end with the ANC as divided as it was in June last year - and with no solution in sight. The situation, as many have pointed out, will get worse before it gets better.

The year comes to an end with the ANC as divided as it was in June last year - and with no solution in sight. The situation, as many have pointed out, will get worse before it gets better.

On Saturday President Thabo Mbeki was once again humiliated when a crowd of Jacob Zuma supporters stood and tried to walk out when he spoke to mourners at the reburial of struggle hero, Moses Mabhida, at Pietermaritzburg's Harry Gwala Stadium. The crowd booed and jeered Mbeki, then broke out in Zuma's trademark song Awuleth' Umshini Wami.

The barrage of ANC leaders in attendance tried to avert an ugly and embarrassing spectacle developing by rushing to lock the stadium gates and prevent the crowd from leaving.

Meanwhile, Zuma himself took the microphone from Mbeki and pleaded with the crowd to keep quiet. His words, uttered in Zulu, are worth repeating here: "Comrades, what are you doing? This is your president speaking. Comrades, this is your president. Can you come back please? Can you please take your seats?"

Ultimately, the booing stopped and Mbeki continued his speech.

The reason why Zuma's words are significant is because we have reached a point now where people have to be reminded that the president of the country has to be respected. It is not just the man who has to be respected, but the office of the president itself.

It is not the first time that this office has been so signally disrespected.

Earlier this year a state occasion, at which our government was honouring the memory of Mahatma Gandhi, was similarly disrespected.

With Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and dignitaries watching, Zuma supporters started chanting and booing when Mbeki began his speech. They then walked out of the poorly attended gathering at Kingsmead Stadium.

Why is this so? The fact is that those who walk out at these gatherings are mimicking the real and very deep problems that exist at the very top of the ANC. It is not just the rank and file in KwaZulu-Natal who are in revolt. Many top ANC leaders are angry with Mbeki too. And their actions - covert and overt - are being copied by the people who walked out on Mbeki on Saturday.

At the leadership level, therefore, the office of the president is seen as being the guiding hand behind the prosecution of the likes of Zuma, and others, by the National Prosecuting Authority and the Scorpions. At the leadership level, many see Mbeki and his office as using state resources to protect his favourites and go after those who are perceived as enemies.

Ngoako Ramatlhodi, the former Limpopo premier who is now under investigation by the Scorpions, is someone who clearly harbours such thoughts. If you remember, he is the man who said in the Free State that some investigations of ANC leaders were incomprehensible and suggested that they were politically motivated.

He is not the only one. Billy Masetlha, a senior ANC official and former director-general of the National Intelligence Agency, is now appearing before the courts on charges of fabricating e-mails alleging a plot against Jacob Zuma.

The point I am trying to get to is that what happened in KwaZulu-Natal on Saturday should not be seen in isolation. The truth is that there is a major war going on between ANC leaders. The national executive committee of the ANC is not a congregation of colleagues. It is now a meeting of bitter enemies.

The same divisions have now trickled down to Cosatu, the ANC Youth League, the ANC Women's League, the SACP and all provincial and regional structures of the ANC.

The party is at war with itself.

On the one side is the Mbeki camp and on the other is the Zuma camp. As long as, at the very top echelons of the party, this division exists, then the ordinary members will continue to behave as they did at Mabhida's funeral.

On Saturday Zuma and Mbeki spoke about unity and how the late Mabhida always worked to keep the party under one umbrella. Alas, the behaviour of ANC leaders today would leave Mabhida aghast. There is backstabbing, greed and selfishness on an unprecedented scale in the ANC.

The party's members know and feel this. They see their leaders divided and fighting and know that all the nice words about unity are nonsense. While the same leaders spout unity from their lips they are busy stabbing each other in the back.

So how does the ANC stop the disrespect that was visited on Mbeki on Saturday? It would help if the two leaders sat down and spoke about the massive divisions in the party right now. Most importantly, they both need to resolve the issue of who succeeds Mbeki urgently.

Uncertainty over Mbeki's successor is leading to paralysis in government and to intense fights in the ANC itself.

Unless it is resolved, what we saw on Saturday is child's play and worse will definitely come.