JOHANNESBURG — The main question as South Africa's ruling party prepares to hold an elective conference is: Who will be the next king? The leader chosen to head the African National Congress at next week's conference is heir apparent to the presidency in 2014. But there are a host of other important issues to be hashed out that will determine South Africa’s future.
The African National Congress's conference gets going Sunday in the city of Mangaung, also known as Bloemfontein.
Much of the conference is going to be held in closed session, so only an elite group of party leaders will be privy to the really exciting parts.
But the outcomes of those closed-door battles affect the lives of all South Africans, says ANC spokesman Ishmael Mnisi. He says it’s a once-in-five years opportunity for the ANC to set policy.
“These very same policies are the policies that the ANC will advance in government in order to make the lives of all South Africans, Africans and the world better, in terms of our own contribution and the ANC,” said Mnisi.
But we will at least know the outcome of the main event: a heavyweight bout between President Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe for the ANC’s top job.
Motlanthe finally accepted the nomination on Thursday after weeks of public indecision.
In doing so, he may have put himself in an all-or-nothing position: while the powerful Gauteng provincial ANC and the ANC Youth League want him as president, others, including the ANC veterans’ league, have eliminated him from their entire slate. He may end up having to fight to keep his current job.
It would be a more interesting contest if anyone knew what exactly the quiet, professorial Motlanthe stood for or how he intends to govern differently. But his reticence to stump for the job has turned it into a contest between Mr. Zuma and a man-who-is-not-Mr.-Zuma.
Political analyst Adam Habib suspects Zuma will win by knockout over the professorial Motlanthe.
“I don’t think that that’s even in contestation," said Habib. "I think that Jacob Zuma has got such an overriding majority. I think he’s got this in the bag.”
Youth League spokeswoman Khusela Sangoni-Khawe says the party has other priorities: namely, the youth league’s proposals for a bolder program of land redistribution and nationalization of some mining operations.
“This is the one chance that the ANC has, before the next election period, to actually take radical policies that will accelerate the pace of change in South Africa," she said. "So it’s critical, because our people are getting impatient and it’s time for the ANC to change gear and really deliver on the promise of economic emancipation.”
Whatever happens, the proceedings will all take place under the shadow of former South African president Nelson Mandela, who set an impossibly high bar for ANC leadership. His one-term administration is regarded as the gold standard.
Even though he retired from public life in 2004 and was in the hospital this week for a lung infection, he still towers over the proceedings: Literally. This week, Zuma unveiled a statue of the anti-apartheid icon in Bloemfontein.