Options point to democratic vote for leaders

On Wednesday President Thabo Mbeki addressed more than 1500 ANC delegates at the opening of the party's national policy conference in Midrand.

On Wednesday President Thabo Mbeki addressed more than 1500 ANC delegates at the opening of the party's national policy conference in Midrand.

In his address Mbeki lambasted the media and several other analysts who have suggested that the four-day conference would be affected by the raging ANC succession debate.

Mbeki accused those who suggested that the conference would be overshadowed by the succession debate as "propagandists".

He said: "They sought to ensure that even as we prepared to come here, it is not issues of policy that should occupy our minds.

"But the so-called leadership succession, in terms of which we would, from within the structures, willingly corrupt everything that the ANC has stood for, for 95 years, and accept that this is nothing more than a stepladder to personal power."

By making these statements Mbeki was doing what the ANC leadership has for a while now been burying their heads in the sand and pretending there is no succession debate.

They have actually gone out of their way to try and show that the "so-called succession debate" is a figment of the media's fertile imagination.

Some have gone to the extent of accusing the media of having a nefarious agenda to sow divisions within the party.

The media's position has been that the issue of the future leadership of the ANC is of such national and public interest that it should be publicly discussed - within and without the ANC.

Fortunately, two incidents relating to the conference have shown that the issue of the ANC leadership succession was on the minds of some delegates.

During the briefing ANC spokesman Smuts Ngonyama acceded that though the issue of two centres of power was not included in the ANC policy discussion documents, several provinces had put it on their policy conference agendas.

Ngonyama said the positions taken by the provinces on the matter "flowed from the choices that people make when they consider possible future leaders''.

He said the provinces would have the opportunity to articulate their positions on the matter during the conference.

Ironically, it was after Mbeki's opening address that the issue of the future ANC leadership came up.

Giving a summary of the suggestions coming from branches on how to review the ANC's organisational structure, general secretary Kgalema Motlanthe said there were three proposals on how the future president of the country should be selected.

The first proposal is that the individual elected as the president of the ANC at the December elective congress must also become the president of the country in 2009.

The second proposal is that the national executive committee should appoint the future president of the country.

The last proposal is that the future president of the country should be elected at the December conference.

In essence this suggestion will deal with the issue of two centres of power through a vote. On the one hand, it also addresses the concerns raised by those who believe that the notion of two centres of power was being used by people who want Mbeki to be re-elected the president of the ANC.

On the other hand, it does address the desires of those who still want Mbeki to be president of the ANC.

Practically it means Mbeki can be elected the president of the ANC, but will be bound by the country's constitution not to stand for re-election as the president of the country.

But it also puts ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma in a position where he could stand for either position.

The ideal position for Zuma's supporters is that whoever is the president of the ANC should be the president of the country.

What this scenario has done is remove the veil of denial that the ANC leadership has wrapped themselves in -when it comes to the succession debate.

What needs to be commended is the method in which the ANC structures have put the issue on the agenda and have found creative ways of dealing with an issue that has created divisions within the party.

The third option, suggested by the ANC's branches, is a compromise position whereby the matter will be decided by vote.

This challenges both Mbeki and Zuma's supporters to mobilise and achieve their goals through popular vote.

Nothing can be more democratic than that.

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