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Zuma and Mbeki must be roped in to achieve ANC renewal and unity


Rebone Tau is a political commentator and author of The Rise and Fall of the ANCYL. She is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Pan-African Thought & Conversation (IPATC) at the University of Johannesburg. She writes in her personal capacity.

Will the comeback of former president Thabo Mbeki yield any results in the process of unifying the ANC? One can say that, technically, he was in exile during the era of former president Jacob Zuma, as he was not seen at any ANC meetings after the party’s 52nd conference and his recall in September 2008. The day that both Zuma and Mbeki sit down and reflect on how things happened when they were both in the presidency is the day we can say the ANC is moving towards renewal and unity.

The ANC in the Free State has invited former president Thabo Mbeki to address the Provincial Interim Committee on the unity of the party at a meeting that was scheduled for Thursday, 17 February. It has been reported that the last time Mbeki was in the Free State was in 2007, before the party’s 52nd national conference. 

Relations between suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule and Mbeki are not good at all, and this did not start after Polokwane. Some say Magashule was overlooked by Mbeki for years as the chairperson of the province (he was only appointed Free State premier during Zuma’s term). 

Both Zuma and Mbeki were in exile together. In 1997, at the ANC’s 50th  National Conference, the late Winnie Mandela was nominated from the floor for the position of deputy president of the ANC. She declined the position and Zuma emerged as deputy president. This started a partnership that would sour in 2005, after that famous speech in Parliament by Mbeki in which he announced that he was releasing Zuma from his duties in government. Zuma subsequently staged a comeback and the rest is history. 

Zuma’s removal deepened divisions within the party. Most party cadres had to choose between the two leaders in the build-up to the 52nd elective conference in 2007.

During the Zuma era, Mbeki did not attend any ANC gatherings. 

Then, after Zuma’s recall, we saw Mbeki being invited by the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal to give a lecture on the life of the late Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe. That was in 2019. He was again invited by the ANC in KZN to speak during the 2021 local government elections campaign. Mbeki has also attended some NEC meetings since President Ramaphosa took over as leader of the party. 

Will Mbeki be able to unite the ANC in the Free State, or will we see those in the so-called RET faction pulling back because of the historical relations between Mbeki and Magashule? When one reflects on divisions in the ANC, it is clear that it is both Zuma and Mbeki who can help the party to unite. 

The ANC has never recovered from what happened at its 52nd conference. There can never be unity in the ANC if both these leaders do not make peace. Unity is a difficult process for anyone, as people have to put their differences aside, talk to each other and find lasting political solutions. 

It is surprising that no one has ever asked former ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe why he chose to be on the Zuma slate as his deputy president when he served as secretary-general in the build-up to the 52nd elective conference. 

Members of the ANC need to ask some of these difficult questions if they are serious about unity within their organisation. The ANC’s biggest problem is that all the factions point fingers at each other instead of looking at the role they have played individually to weaken the party through the years. 

Some people within the ANC move from one faction to another every 10 years for their political survival, which is one of the biggest problems. This happens when a party is led by careerists who are looking out for their own interests and not those of the party.  

If one looks at ANC politics once the president has been elected for the second term, people already start to plan for the next conference as they know the president will not return for a third term. This creates instability and division. We saw this building up to the 52nd and 54th elective conferences. 

These are the politics of posturing and they are without principle. These people check the balance of forces within the party and make sure they get closer to the candidate that is likely to win the conference. That way, they are always close to the trough. There is no regard for principles.

Some people blame Zuma for everything when they reflect on ANC challenges and State Capture, while they were in leadership with him for 10 years. What role did they play in keeping everybody together? The ANC leadership talked about collective responsibility and that collective responsibility has put the ANC where it is today. 

As the political head, Zuma was never in charge of branches –that is the role of the secretariat, i.e. Gwede Mantashe and Kgalema Motlanthe, during their era. When you have weak branches, you are bound to have a weak organisation.

There is what we call the bottom-to-top approach and the top-to-bottom approach. Currently, the top-to-bottom approach is the order of the day, which means members at a branch level are told who to support in the build-up to ANC conferences at all levels of the organisation, from regional to national. That is why you find money is used to buy votes. 

Those who are close to power collect money and make sure they shepherd delegates to conference until they have cast their ballot in their favour. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Coen Gous says:

    You think just like the President! Unity in the ANC at all cost, regardless of the impact on broader society. Who cares if there is unity in the ANC if the poor governance simply continue?

  • Hermann Funk says:

    Your ANC is a mafia-like organisation and needs to be removed before it destroys the country completely.

  • Miles Japhet says:

    Zuma quite happily replaced any ethical members of his cabinet, SOE’s etc. A fish rots from the head!
    The No 1 culprit.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Zuma can start an accountability process by going to court ,facing the music and serving his sentence!!!!He has been the biggest destroyer of South Africa!!!!Fame is a fickle thing, men taste it and die.Somewhere in South Africa is a hidden box, it is filled with moral compasses, accountability,respect for rule of law,Ubuntu or help your neighbor,SA should search for that.If that is found we might have a chance!!!The ANC is a gasbag, talk and no action,funny how communists are now capatalistically rich

    • Alan Watkins says:

      Dont forget that the current case before the courts is for fraud, corruption etc for a paltry R4m, maybe R10m in todays rands. Likely outcome guilty and sentence 15 years out after 5 years unless medically paroled, given that Scabir Shaik was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years for the same charges. BUT there must still be court cases and accountability for the HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of rands of corruption on which Zuma is allegedly directly involved and the BILLIONS of rands of corruption which Zuma enabled.

  • Stephen Stead says:

    Given all the evidence linking the anc to state capture, this article is pretty funny. “That way, they are always close to the trough. There is no regard for principles.” You make this statement but fail to recognise this defines the zero sum nature of anc kickback politics. Welcoming back Zuma for more crony cake eating, to ‘stabilise’ a corrupt system is laughable. Unfortunately, the tragedy is that the anc will fail when the coffers are depleted, to the huge detriment of the SA poor.

  • Simon Schaffer says:

    Never read such utter garbage. Zuma and his acolytes are brazen criminals and must be jailed asap. Then this criminal organization you call the ANC can start the long long road to healing it will likely never survive.

  • Stephen T says:

    I fully expected this to be in the “Satire” section…

  • Louis Potgieter says:

    Give Mbeki credit for seeing through Zuma and Magashule. Why should that change now?
    Tau talks about principle, but never considers the integrity-corruption dimension. Given that dimension, unity is a pipe dream. Chalk and cheese don’t mix. The citizens don’t want unity, they want to see the end of the corrupt faction. If that faction is too strong (clearly), they want to see the end of the ANC.
    In fact, the article is jarring to my senses. Get the ANC out of your system.

  • Christo Volschenk says:

    Zuma belongs in jail. How on earth could you forget that?

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    The reason why the ANC is falling apart is because it is ideologically conflicted, and rudderless. Both Mbeki and Zuma are hopelessly flawed, and if Mr Tau thinks they can even temporarily fix the mess he is delusional. The only way the party can survive – governing isn’t even an option – is to split.

  • David Bristow says:

    Have you been smoking weed?

  • Bruce Q says:

    One must remember that this “Opinionista” is just that…an opinion.
    Just sad that so many people in SA have such bizarre opinions –
    An honest and hard working ANC that puts the South African people ahead of its need to eat. Try writing about that Mr. Tau.
    Just look at them in parliament!
    The ANC have to have the fattest MPs per capita in the world!
    “Eat less and work more.”
    THAT should be their directive from the people.

  • Craig B says:

    Maybe God can save the ANC but I wouldn’t try any rank below that

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