Real fear of permanence of rupture in ANC standoff

The rupture between President Thabo Mbeki and his former deputy Jacob Zuma, as they prepare for the ANC conference in Limpopo, could assume a solid permanence - unless one of them blinks in the meantime.

The rupture between President Thabo Mbeki and his former deputy Jacob Zuma, as they prepare for the ANC conference in Limpopo, could assume a solid permanence - unless one of them blinks in the meantime.

There is an eyeball-to-eyeball element to the confrontation between the two erstwhile allies, judging from their language, particularly from Mbeki.

Most analysts of the Southern African political scene will be hoping that the two men will heal their rift before the conference.

There have been parallels, most of them so bloody that it is scary to imagine Mbeki and Zuma not recognising the potential for disaster if they don't pull back from the brink.

In Malawi, President Kamuzu Banda broke up with the people who had begged him to return to his country from Ghana to spearhead the struggle against the British and federation.

In particular, Banda targeted two former allies - Henry Chipembere and Orton Chirwa. Not only did he denounce them publicly, but he created an atmosphere so hostile to their continued stay in the country that their only option was to flee.

There followed years of hostility, some violent. Both died before there was any chance of reconciliation.

Simon Kapwepwe's case will be familiar to both men, as they were in Zambia when the former comrade-in-arms of Kenneth Kaunda fell out with his boyhood friend.

It was long after independence, when they had tried to develop their new country together, but the circumstances would not allow them to complete their experiment: Kapwepwe died long after he had left Kaunda's government, a very sick and bitter man.

There are even parallels in Zimbabwe. There was the fall-out between President Robert Mugabe and his former right-hand man Edgar Tekere. These two men had travelled together from Rhodesia to Mozambique to join the "boys".

At Zimbabwe's independence, Mugabe and Tekere worked side by side for a while, until Tekere became chafed at what he said was an attempt by Mugabe to introduce a one-party system of government.

Tekere fled the coop and led his own party against Mugabe, but he lost and remains outside Zanu-PF to this day, in spite of attempts to bring him back into the fold.

Tekere has written his memoirs, in which he is scathing about Mugabe's role in the struggle. There is very little chance of reconciliation between the two.

Mbeki and Zuma have a long way to go before it can be said that their differences are impossible to reconcile. Yet both men are stubborn. Their stubbornness is born, probably, out of their years during the struggle and in exile.

It has been said that the liberation struggle hardens even the softest hearts and brings out the worst (or the best) in human beings.

There will probably be endless debate on the exact effects of the years in the struggle on the human psyche.

The consolation for Mbeki and Zuma might be that one of the most enduring friendships in those circumstances, between Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, lasted well after Cuba's independence in 1959.

It is not that they did not have differences, but it seems that they did not allow their differences to cripple their vision of Cuba after the struggle.

To many neutral observers, even considering the support Zuma enjoys in the ANC rank and file, it is difficult to see him accepted by all members. There will be some who feel that with Zuma at the helm, there would be a risk to the party's credibility in a civilian dispensation.

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