Now that Jacob Zuma assumes the presidency of South Africa’s ruling party, defeating incumbent party leader Thabo Mbeki, how has his political battle with the South African president affected the African National Congress? Reporter Delia Robertson is in Polokwane, site of the
ANC national conference. She spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about whether a rift in the part still exists.
“I think that the divisions still remain in the party and I think it’s going to take a lot of time and effort for them to truly heal those divisions. Some people have described them as deep wounds. But I think in terms of the organization working and continuing to function, the Thabo Mbeki supporters are making it very clear today (Wednesday) that the ANC voted, the ANC has spoken, and that the new leaders are the new leaders, and that they must get on with the job of running the country, of working to build and grow the party and continue what they see as its mission,” she says.
Following the landslide vote in favor of Zuma, the two men embraced. But was it for real for just a gesture for public consumption? Robertson says, “I think the decision was made ahead of time that whoever won, there would be a show of reconciliation. But I think if you looked at the way Thabo Mbeki managed that, I think it was a very symbolic gesture on his part. Somebody here today said to me that it was a gesture of a real man, somebody who is willing to put people and his party before his own personal situation. And some have even described it almost like a father leading his daughter down the aisle and presenting her to the gathering people and celebrants.”
President Mbeki left the stage immediately after the embrace, leaving Zuma alone in the spotlight.
Considering the political power of the ANC compared to that of other opposition parties, Robertson was asked whether it’s really that important for the ANC to heal its divisions quickly. She says, “I think it [is] because there’s a great deal of work still to be done in this country. And if you have a party that is not functioning, a ruling party that is, you have real problems in carrying out government programs and so on because people will be focused on disputes rather than doing the work they are elected to do. So, it is extremely important. And I think in terms of the tradition of the ANC that has run through the organization since its founding early last century, it is very important for them to do that because it’s what they expect of themselves.