two centres of power work and must be kept

The time for the new ANC leadership to revisit its attitude to the question of two centres of power has never been ideal. This arrangement works.

The time for the new ANC leadership to revisit its attitude to the question of two centres of power has never been ideal. This arrangement works.

Under Thabo Mbeki there was one centre of power: he was the president of the party and the republic. This created the problem of accountability by cabinet ministers and deputy ministers to the party because he was the boss of both power centres.

The ANC as party was rendered ineffective, with the presidency at the Union Buildings imposing policies and decisions. This was easy to do because most in the cabinet were members of the party's national executive committee anyway and it all worked in their favour.

Since Polokwane the power is moving slowly to Luthuli House. Jacob Zuma, Mbeki's successor as ANC leader, is becoming a powerhouse himself. Whatever he says counts and the more he says anything against Mbeki and his government policies, the louder the applause.

What makes two centres of power the best option?

This arrangement has inadvertently done wonders for the ANC and for those who believe government policies have gone off at a tangent.

Let's take the situation of Zimbabwe. Under Zuma, Luthuli House has taken a clear stand about the wrongfulness of the situation. Mbeki's quiet diplomacy is being turned upside down and criticised by the left as "blind diplomacy".

The Zuma leadership has publicly disagreed with Mbeki's view, though he implies he was quoted out of context that there is no crisis in Zimbabwe.

Cosatu's Zwelinzima Vavi, the SACP's Blade Nzimande and Young Communist League's Buti Manamela are unapologetic critics of Mbeki's approach to Zimbabwe.

The three have voiced their sympathies for Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

MDC general secretary Tendai Biti has been in the country since last weekend to lobby support to put pressure on the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to release the results of the March 29 presidential elections, which the MDC claims to have won.

The voices against Mbeki's stance are multiplying by the day. Manamela has pooh-pooed any suggestion by Mugabe and Zanu-PF that Tsvangirai cannot rule the country because he has no struggle credentials.

"What struggle credentials?" Manamela asked in an interview with Sowetan. "We need to be careful about whether people should have struggle credentials to be regarded as good leaders.

"Struggle credentials do not make you infallible and it should not give Mugabe an excuse to cling to power.

"If the people of Zimbabwe want Morgan Tsvangirai as leader of that country, who are we to stop them?"

As another way to show opposition to quiet diplomacy, Cosatu and civil society groups are planning mass action against food price hikes and the situation in Zimbabwe.

The carpet has been pulled from under Mbeki's feet as Luthuli House dominates centre stage.

In the last few weeks Zuma and general secretary Gwede Mantashe have been receiving local and international guests at 54 Sauer Street, something that was previously the preserve of the state.

These days cabinet ministers come down to Luthuli to account to the party. The latest has been Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica and Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin.

Subsequently the party and government agreed this week to set up a joint task team to organise an energy summit to address the electricity crisis.

The tripartite alliance is also beginning to regroup in a strong way. An example is next week's deployment of NEC members for the May Day commemoration rallies. Alliance leaders inclusive of non-trade unionists, have been deployed to rallies countrywide.

The SACP is likely to implement Cosatu's call for an alliance pact to ensure a greater say by the party and Cosatu in ANC decision- and policy-making.

Had Zuma occupied both presidencies, that of the party and the country, would the results have been the same? I doubt it. He would have fallen into the same trap as Mbeki.

This is what we should expect when Zuma becomes the country's president in 2009. Such consolidation of power is tempting indeed.

He will clash more and more with the party, especially the left. It wouldn't be long before Vavi calls for his head or the SACP accuses him of playing to the capitalists gallery.

With his history of flip-flopping on policy issues and saying what his audience wants to hear, Zuma, like a chameleon, will change his colours to suit the prevailing circumstances.

The SACP should be worried that he is courting Gordon Brown. Being a Labour leader does not make the British prime minister less of a capitalist.

Interestingly, Zuma and Brown have offered to work together to "overcome challenges facing progressive parties", to "build a global effort to get the world back on track" and "coordinate global action" against poverty.

Whether this means Brown will pull Zuma towards capitalism or socialism that many of the "progressive forces" know remains to be seen. One thing for sure is that Brown's interest in Zuma is his pronouncements against Mugabe.

Britain has long led the EU onslaught on the Zimbabwean leader and Brown has to consolidate the anti-Mugabe forces.

In the process, Brown will pit the ANC leader against Mugabe and it's a matter of time before the big man in Harare shows his true colours and tells Zuma where to get off.

With the weak political opposition in South Africa and the SACP-Cosatu partners unlikely to break away from the alliance, the case for two centres in the ANC is valid if the government is to be made to account.