ANC leadership battle hotting up
A devastating strike and looming policy conference are finally prodding the shadowy contest for the leadership of the ANC into the open, even if no candidate wants to admit it.
As the ANC's deputy president Jacob Zuma, questioned again about succeeding President Thabo Mbeki, insisted: "In the ANC, we do not run."
Zuma's grinning assertion, however, might have sounded more convincing if it was delivered elsewhere than in a packed room of journalists, before embarking on interviews with international TV networks.
And when Tokyo Sexwale insisted earlier that the candidates for December's election had not yet been identified, it escaped the attention of few that he was delivering a speech entitled: "Public conversations on leadership with Tokyo."
The next ANC president will be formally elected in December, with the winner finding him or herself in pole position to take over as head of state in 2009.
And, according to Cape Town-based analyst Zwelethu Jolobe, the next few weeks will be key to finding out who will most likely become South Africa's third president since the birth of democracy in 1994.
"It's all opened up the race up much more and you might now find one or two more candidates coming into the race," Jolobe said.
Zuma's quest for the top post has been given a new boost by the most serious bout of worker unrest since the end of apartheid over the past two weeks. He has been positioning himself as a champion of the poor and his name has been chanted at a number of the workers' rallies.
He used three high-profile appearances last week to bemoan what he described as a "widening gap between the rich and poor" and to express his belief that the strike could and should have been avoided.
Jolobe said it was "not a coincidence" that Zuma had been raising his profile at a time when Mbeki's government is at odds with the unions.
If Zuma is the choice of the left, the millionaire Sexwale has emerged as the champion of business leaders who have thrived under Mbeki's tenure after mapping out his "dream of creating wealth for all". Sexwale has admitted he has been lobbied to stand.
According to analyst Aubrey Matshiqi, Sexwale is playing a bold game by "playing his cards much more openly" than other hopefuls.
He agreed other candidates could soon be smoked out by the policy conference, including the likes of Cyril Ramaphosa, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who was last week hailed by Mbeki as "a true leader".
Matshiqi said the apparent endorsement of Mlambo-Ngcuka could even be a ploy by Mbeki to build up support among women while he mulls standing again for the party leader even if he is forbidden from a third term as head of state.
But with even Mbeki yet to come clean on his plans, many observers say the ANC needs to end its instinct of dealing with matters behind closed doors. - Sapa-AFP