In South Africa, the growing debate about who should lead the ruling African National Congress party (ANC) is reportedly threatening to plunge the party into crisis. President Thabo Mbeki and former deputy President Jacob Zuma, who is said to be enjoying the support of trade unions and grass roots partisans, are expected to face off at the party?s convention next month when partisans will decide who should become the next leader of the ANC.

The leader of the ANC normally becomes the president of South Africa. But while South Africa?s constitution bars Mbeki from running for a third term, the ANC constitution doesn?t.

Meanwhile, a victory for Mbeki as party leader would give him the mandate to choose his successor as president. Mbeki fired Zuma as deputy president in 2005 after he was implicated in a corruption case. But observers say Zuma has been making a steady comeback.

Adams Habib is a South African political analyst. He tells reporter Peter Clottey from Johannesburg that the party?s apparent division would persist for sometime.

?I think the ANC has been a very divided organization probably for the last 24 months, ever since Thabo Mbeki dismissed Jacob Zuma as deputy president of the country. Since then, we have seen the ANC divided as an organization, we?ve seen a succession race begin for the presidency of the ANC, which will culminate on the conference floor in December 2007,? Habib said.

He said the ANC division is visible and polarizing.

?And what we?ve seen is a very polarized organization. On the one hand you have Thabo Mbeki and a significant supporters around him and on the other hand you have Jacob Zuma who is enormously popular and who seems to have won the support of the ANC youth league in a number of branches and a number of provinces in the country, as well as COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) and the Communist party,? he said.

Habib prescribed two possible solutions to what he sees as the brewing political tension in the ruling ANC.

?There are two models to actually resolve this issue. The first is that we could see a situation where Jacob Zuma and Thabo Mbeki face each other on the conference floor. What?s that likely to do is to allow the party to remain divided. So over the next two years you can almost be guaranteed that this division would not stop at the conference, but would continue for the next two years until the election of the president of the country in 2009. The other option is that the ANC or its party elite convince both of the leading candidates -Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma - to stand down from the race and then explore the possibility of a compromise candidate,? he pointed out.