South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) party is denying reports of a calculated attempt to get rid of supporters of President Thabo Mbeki from higher positions within the party. The party says the apparent resignation of provincial premiers who reportedly supported President Mbeki during last year's Polokwane Conference are meant to strengthen the party ahead of general elections. But some political analysts believe that internal divisions that emerged after the Polokwane Conference, which led to the election of Jacob Zuma as ANC president, are beginning to take deep roots. Professor Rok Ajulu is a South African political analyst. From the capital, Pretoria he tells reporter Peter Clottey that the timing of the resignation of the premiers sends the wrong political signal ahead of the general elections.

"That situation should be put in a broader context to be understood properly. A few weeks ago, the African National Congress national executive committee decided that they were going to relieve Ibrahim Rasool, the premier of Western Cape and Nosimo Balindlela, premier of Eastern Cape because of what were perceived to be lack of performance on their part. But those two premiers happened to be from two provinces which supported President Thabo Mbeki at the Polokwane Conference," Ajulu noted. 

He said it doesn't come as a shock as people began questioning the rationale behind the resignation of the premiers.

"So, it is not surprising that this has been seen as a purge of pro-Mbeki supporters. And that kind of coverage has actually gone to the press here over the last two weeks. So I'm not surprised of that interpretation that was always bound to happen, irrespective of what the real issues are. In the post-Polokwane scenario, politics is being seen purely in terms of the Mbeki versus Zuma, even when that is not the case," he said.

Ajulu said various interpretations have been assigned to the recent resignation of supporters who are perceived to have supported President Mbeki during the Polokwane Conference.

"That is precisely what has happened, I mean irrespective of the reasons that have been given because those were the supporters of Mbeki. In the run-up to Polokwane, it has been interpreted as such of the Mbeki process. Personally, I don't think it is," Ajulu said.

He questioned the timing of the resignation of the two premiers.

"If I was the one doing it, I don't think the timing is right because for whatever reason for the move, it was always going to be interpreted as a purge. So, maybe the timing is not correct, and that is the predominant interpretation," he said.

Ajulu said there was need for the ruling party to assuage the fears of pro-Mbeki supporters.

"The new ANC leadership needs to move cautiously and needs to be accommodative of the Mbeki forces. As Americans would say 'the Zuma group should adopt the approach that they are better off inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.' So, in that sense they need to adopt a very cautious approach, wooing these people to come in, and avoiding mistimed actions like these because for whatever reason ANC took this decision. In the aftermath of Polokwane the broader interpretation will always be that this is a purge," Ajulu noted.