Eric Naki

Eric Naki

Like the ANC leadership succession, the relationship between the executive headed by President Thabo Mbeki and the ruling party led by the new ANC president Jacob Zuma will be a point of debate for some time, even beyond this weekend's ANC lekgotla.

This is so especially that there are now two centres of power, something the Zuma camp had vehemently opposed.

The ANC annual leadership indaba, which starts on Friday and runs until Sunday, will determine how the two offices will cooperate for the next 18 months. The Zuma leadership is expected to call the government to order so that it talks to the party more often.

A protocol likely to be agreed on will indicate that Zuma, though not the president of the country, is now running the country from Chief Albert Luthuli House.

Zuma's statement at the ANC's 96th birthday anniversary celebrations in Atteridgeville, Pretoria, at the weekend could have different interpretations - that the new national executive committee (NEC), which consists of many members who have an axe to grind with Mbeki for various reasons is ready to "sort them out". Or that he was sounding a positive warning that the government and the ANC have to work closely for the good of the country and that tendencies towards disunity in the ANC will not be tolerated any more.

Zuma told cheering supporters in Pretoria: "ANC members outside government will not be allowed to undermine those in the government. Those deployed in government cannot undermine the ANC. Should this happen, we will take very serious action."

While Zuma's statement had an element of reconciliation, depending on which interpretation you choose, his new lieutenants tend to give a different message - one that calls for war. NEC members Tony Yengeni and Billy Masetlha, who both believe they are victims of Mbeki government policies, have chosen the war path.

It remains to be seen if Zuma will be influenced by disgruntled militants such as Yengeni and Masetlha to set an acrimonious agenda and tone on how the two centres of power will deal with each other in future.

Some observers say Zuma is a good leader, but people around him can mislead him in pursuance of their sometimes nefarious personal projects.

After the lekgotla, it will be interesting to see how often Mbeki is called to ANC headquarters to account for government actions or to get fresh mandates on how he must implement ANC policies.

Another dimension to this issue is how the national assembly speaker, Baleka Mbete, will deal with the executive or Mbeki. Previously, Mbete, who was elected ANC national chairman, defended the executive against the opposition and ANC parliamentarians always rubber-stamped the executive decisions.

Mbete stood her ground in defence of Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang when DA health chief Mike Waters challenged the minister over her theft conviction.

This resulted in Waters accusing parliament of "cravenly licking the feet of the executive".

With Mbete now on the Zuma side, are we going to see a change of heart on her part and witness Mbeki or Tshabalala-Msimang or any other cabinet member being hauled before parliament to answer for bad government decisions? These are developments to watch.

If parliament becomes assertive in its oversight function , this will point to the reality that two centres of power is not such a bad idea after all, especially in a democracy.

But considering that interference in the running of the government by the party has its disadvantages, the government could be hamstrung by inner-party political squabbles and fail to satisfy the needs of the rest of citizens.

In the run-up to Polokwane, Shadrack Gutto, director of the Unisa-based Centre for African Renaissance Studies, told Sowetan that two centres of power are good for accountability.

"Here you have a situation where the government is held to account by the party. The state president and the government have to look over their shoulders all the time and that helps delivery.

"There is a mechanism for checks and balances while in a single centre situation, the government does what it likes, even without consultation, because the president is the head of government and the party," he said.

Sanusha Naidu, an independent political analyst based at Stellenbosch University, said two centres are problematic at the moment because both the Zuma and Mbeki camps are rigid in their approaches to each other. This situation is further confused by Mbeki's office which seems to be in limbo and unsure of how to move forward in policy implementation since Zuma was elected.

"Mbeki seems to be operating independently of the party and the presidency's role is confusing. At the same time Zuma has his own vision and views although his policies are the same as those of Mbeki's," said Naidu.

She said two centres create confusion in movement forward and policy implementation.

"There has to be some kind of harmonisation otherwise the confusion will continue," she said.

Naidu said it would be interesting to see how Zuma's policies are influenced by his leftist allies in the SACP and Cosatu in terms of macro-economics, inflation targeting and fiscal policies.

Both ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and his deputy Thandi Modise downplayed any differences resulting from two centres. Mantashe, in a media briefing on Friday, said: "It's an artificial division because it's not a question of the state versus the ANC."

He emphasised the need for "dynamic engagement" between the party and the state for effective implementation of ANC programmes by government.

Modise said Mbeki himself encouraged the ANC caucus to hold the government accountable for its actions.

"The policies government implements originate from the ANC. The policies migrate from the ANC into government. So there's no possibility of having two centres of policy."