Zuma lashed in book on struggle for soul of ANC

Book: Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC

Book: Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC

Author: William Mervin Gumede

Publisher: Zebra Press

Reviewer: Eric Naki

I started reading William Mervin Gumede's updated book from the last chapter deliberately - I was curious to know what he has to say about the current ANC succession debate.

I also wanted to make sure that I read the new additions, and I got what I wanted and more.

In the chapter Battle for Succession, Gumede leaves no stone unturned and spares no one from his razor-sharp analysis of the issue. His research on ANC figures is impressive.

Though Thabo Mbeki is at the centre of the book, he is just the entry point. The book is really about ANC politics, or politics of conflict, from its inception to the upcoming national conference in Limpopo next month.

Gumede maintains, like many others, that the ANC presidential election in Limpopo will be a drama-filled event.

Nobody, including Mbeki, ever thought that Jacob Zuma was to be a serious contender for the party presidency, but his support at grass roots level is overwhelming.

Mbeki appointed Zuma as his deputy knowing that he was not presidential material and also hoped that he would not upstage him. He was wrong.

Gumede is scathing about Zuma, saying he is the weakest of all potential candidates, hence his decision to launch a noisy campaign to intimidate his rivals.

"It appears that ANC members, even those who support him, increasingly accept that a Zuma presidency would be divisive," writes Gumede.

The Zuma factor is threatening to bring the divisive ethnic factor back into the mainstream ANC and national politics.

Those rallying in support of Zuma, including Cosatu and the SACP, like their hero, do so hoping to rescue their political careers or secure immunity from possible criminal prosecution.

Gumede profiles each leader in this chapter while relating his or her role in the leadership race. Besides Mbeki, the Zuma camp has identified Cyril Ramaphosa as a candidate to beat.

Gumede has been surprisingly lenient on Mbeki in the last chapter, mostly throwing blows at Zuma. Maybe it's because he lambasts Mbeki's leadership style of marginalising and silencing his critics upfront. However, he praises Zuma for brokering peace between the IFP and ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, and winning over King Goodwill Zwelithini to the ANC or at least to be neutral.

The book highlights many battles for the soul of the ANC, between intellectuals and non-intellectuals, exiles and non-exiles, among alliance partners and Cosatu's latest onslaught to take control of the movement.

It also focuses extensively on the lack of internal democracy in the ANC and the party's leadership machinations. He points out how the national leadership, not just Mbeki, always intervened to stop competition "in the interest of unity" and manipulated elections to put the "right people" in certain positions.

It's interesting, but not surprising, to read that Zuma had been Mbeki's staunch loyalist. As head of the deployment committee, Zuma worked with Mbeki in removing those who did not toe the line. All that is history now, Zuma wants Mbeki's job.

The book also covers Mbeki's relationships with Robert Mugabe and Libya's Muammar Gadaffi, the future of the alliance and South Africa's economy compared to those of China, India and Brazil.