In South Africa, the quest for ex-deputy president Jacob Zuma to become leader of the ruling African National Congress party (ANC) received a significant boost Monday after the influential Women’s League endorsed his candidacy. Zuma, who took a commanding lead over the weekend in a race with President Thabo Mbeki, said he is ready to govern South Africa. The ANC chooses a possible new leader next month, and political observers believe the Women’s League endorsement of Zuma worsens the woes of Mbeki’s third term bid to be the leader of the ANC.
The ANC’s provincial branches made their nominations over the weekend ahead of the ANC's conference in December to choose a possible new leader. Usually, the ANC president also becomes the national president in elections scheduled for 2009 because of the party's grip on South African politics. But while the country’s constitution bars Mbeki from running for a third term, the ANC constitution does not.
Karima Brown is the political editor of the independent Business Day newspaper. From Johannesburg, she tells reporter Peter Clottey that Zuma’s endorsement puts Mbeki in a fight for his political life.
“Firstly, I think it’s a major upset because the Women’s League was expected to back President Thabo Mbeki’s effort for a third term as party president. It signals the beginning of the end for the Mbeki third term effort. The ANC women’s league now joins the ANC Youth league together with five other provinces in supporting Jacob Zuma as their preferred candidate to lead the party after Mbeki in 2007 at the December elective conference in Polokwane,” Brown noted.
She said the endorsement of Zuma by the influential ANC women’s league is significant.
“If you look at the results that came out last weekend, it is very clear that President Thabo Mbeki doesn’t have an overwhelming province that backs him for a third term. And so the Women’s League was the last big block because the Women’s League together with the Youth League both count as the weight of an ANC province. President Mbeki’s third term bid required the Women’s League to back it wholeheartedly to be able to wage a fight back in terms of the lead that Jacob Zuma has brought up,” She said.
Brown said the endorsement shows that President Mbeki’s championing of women’s issues has not translated into his political capital gain.
“If you recall, President Thabo Mbeki is on record as saying he would prefer to be succeeded by a woman. And given the fact that the Women’s League leaders have been major beneficiaries if Mbeki’s championing of the gender issue in the ANC, it comes as a big set back for them to throw their weight behind his nemesis. It also means that Mbeki’s championing of the gender issue has not yielded the political dividend, at a time when the president needed it most because he is in a political fight of his life,” Brown pointed out.
She said Zuma’s popularity has been a conglomerate of his ability to connect with ordinary ANC partisans, among others.
“I think there are many reasons, but I think in some senses the present mood in the party tells us more about President Thabo Mbeki’s failures than it does about Jacob Zuma’s strength. The key difference between the two men is their style; Zuma has the ability to seek consensus, he has the ability to engage a broad range of people even if he disagrees. If you look at the respect with which he is regarded by the ANC’s allies, the South African Communist party, the South African Congress of Trade Unions (COSATU), and even civil society at large,” she said.
Brown said former Mbeki allies are now backing Zuma’s bid to be the next leader of the ANC.
“You have a lot of people that have fallen foul of President Mbeki, and have fallen out with the president. From the former leader of the National Intelligence Agency to former premiers, and these people have managed to rally behind Jacob Zuma and provide him with the mass appeal that is required. And I think that what you see now is the cumulative effect of a president who effectively distanced himself from his party and it’s come back to bite him,” Brown noted.