Zuma quells fears and calls for unity

Ido Lekota

Ido Lekota

Jacob Zuma yesterday assured defeated comrades that they had nothing to fear.

In a move obviously meant to unite what has been described as "a wounded ANC", Zuma extended an olive branch to the man he trounced at the party's leadership contest in Polokwane.

In an emotionally charged speech Zuma called Mbeki "a brother and a comrade".

"I have known and worked with comrade Mbeki for over 30 years. I must confess I never thought that the two of us would one day compete for the same position in the ANC. However, contesting positions does not make us enemies," Zuma said.

Zuma also told the media that Mbeki was a leader of the ANC who had capabilities the party needed.

"He is a comrade who is going to be with us for a long time."

Zuma also noted that Mbeki would be an ex officio member of the ANC's national executive committee as former president.

Zuma and his supporters trounced Mbeki and his supporters in the battle for the top six positions in the party's national executive. Serious tensions arose between the two camps, which led to speculation that Zuma's new officials would purge the NEC of Mbeki supporters.

"Let me emphasise that the leadership collective will serve the entire membership of the ANC, regardless of whether a person voted for Thabo Mbeki or Jacob Zuma or any other member or leader. We cannot have a Zuma camp or a Mbeki camp - there is only one ANC. None among us is above the organisation or bigger than the ANC," he said.

Zuma also moved to embrace Mbeki's cabinet, saying he regarded them as comrades who were deployed by the ANC. He said having different opinions did not mean that people were enemies.

He allayed fears about any tensions that could arise between him as the president of the ANC and Mbeki as president of the country.

"There is likely to be anxiety regarding the existence of two presidents - one of the state and the other of the party. There is no reason for uncertainty or fear in any quarter. Comrade Mbeki and I, both as members of the ANC first and foremost, will develop smooth working relations between the government and the ruling party, assisted by the leadership," said Zuma.

His remarks come amid concerns about how in the next 18 months the ANC would deal with the issue of two centres of power. The concern has been that the situation could lead to Mbeki being a lame-duck president.

This week SACP secretary Blade Nzimande said the ANC should develop protocols to deal with the issue.

Zuma said one of the most important tasks of his new leadership would be to create a united ANC.

Zuma said it was the first time in the history of the ANC as the governing party that it had to deal with such a crisis.

"As the newly elected NEC we will endeavour to work with all comrades who did not make it on to the NEC to ensure that the unity of the ANC is strengthened. We are all ANC members who just happened to prefer a different leadership collective, as is our democratic right."

Zuma also warned that the ANC should not leave unresolved the issues that led to the rift within the party.

"The occurrences of the first day of the conference were indicative of internal problems that need to be sorted out without delay. The leadership must not fail to address problems within the organisation.

"A lesson we have learnt from this conference is that if leadership fails to resolve issues, or to grasp the feelings of membership on issues that concern the movement, and instead appears to perpetuate the problems, the membership takes over and asserts its authority in ways that we may not be comfortable with. The conference is now behind us and we will continue to work together to unite and build a stronger ANC," he said.