Will the ANC implode?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Apr 28 08:50:52 MDT 2001

NY Times, April 28, 2001 

South African Leader Fights a Fraying Image


MALOPE, South Africa, April 26 — For a moment today, President Thabo Mbeki
was everyone's hero. Barefoot girls punched their tiny fists in the air as
he unveiled the first water tap in this dusty village, and people cheered
when clean, clear water gushed from the faucet.

Mr. Mbeki spoke confidently about the pace of change in post-apartheid
South Africa. "This shows that, as a country, as a people, we are making
progress," he said of the shiny new taps that will bring water to 39
villages in this northern, rural corner of the country. "Things are
changing. We must continue to work together, all of us."

One of the biggest changes since Mr. Mbeki was elected 22 months ago has
been the unraveling of his image. He was hailed as the can-do president,
the urbane economist who was at ease with whites and a fierce advocate for
blacks. Yet this week, as South Africa celebrated seven years of democracy,
Mr. Mbeki seemed increasingly uncertain of his power and popularity. 

In recent days, some members of the governing African National Congress
have circulated pamphlets calling for "One president, one term." On
Tuesday, the authorities stunned the nation by announcing an investigation
of three senior A.N.C. members on charges of conspiring to oust Mr. Mbeki.

Opposition parties and government allies sharply criticized the inquiry,
warning that the power of the state should not be used to intimidate
political rivals. Former President Nelson Mandela defended the three men,
who were signficant figures in the liberation struggle. 

The nation's leading weekly newspaper — one of the president's fiercest
critics — put Mr. Mbeki's face on its front page and asked, "Is this man
fit to rule?"

The A.N.C. denies that the investigation of the three A.N.C. members and
businessmen — Cyril Ramaphosa, Tokyo Sexwale and Matthews Phosa — is
politically motivated. 

But Mr. Ramaphosa and Mr. Sexwale are certainly two of the president's most
prominent political rivals. And they have homegrown support bases here,
something Mr. Mbeki lacks. 

Mr. Ramaphosa headed the Congress of South African Trade Unions, helped
negotiate an end to all-white rule and served as the A.N.C.'s secretary
general. He was Mr. Mandela's first choice as a successor and now chairs a
powerful media and telecommunications company. He never went into exile.

Mr. Sexwale, who received military training in Russia, was imprisoned on
Robben Island with Mr. Mandela, and after the country's first democratic
election in 1994, ran the province that includes Johannesburg. He now runs
a company with interests in diamond and platinum mines.

Mr. Phosa served as the A.N.C.'s legal adviser during the apartheid era and
afterward ran Mpumalanga Province.

All three men deny conspiring against Mr. Mbeki or having any aspirations
to be president. But a keen awareness of the rivalry, particularly between
Mr. Mbeki and Mr. Ramaphosa, has led many people to fear that Mr. Mbeki is
abusing power to destroy his opponents.

"We are currently extremely concerned at the developments," Zwelinzima
Vavi, the leader of the trade union congress, said in an interview on state
radio this week. "Nobody should be tempted to try to settle a score of a
political nature by then involving the power of the state."

Mr. Mbeki has been viewed as increasingly vulnerable in A.N.C. circles
since polls indicated last year that his approval ratings had dropped to 50
percent from 70 percent. And in a surprise public statement earlier this
month, Deputy President Jacob Zuma unexpectedly denied rumors and
"unverified, so- called intelligence reports" that he might stand for the
position of party president.

Officials say the chief accuser is James Nkambule, a discredited leader of
the A.N.C. youth league who is currently facing fraud charges. He has
accused the men of spreading rumors that Mr. Mbeki had orchestrated the
1993 assassination of revered South African Communist Party leader Chris
Hani, among other things.

Two right-wing whites were convicted of killing Mr. Hani, who was one of
Mr. Mbeki's rivals for the position of deputy to Mr. Mandela. But officials
fear that such an accusation, if taken seriously, could provoke Mr. Hani's
supporters to harm the president.

The officials say a journalist has also come forward to say that
businessmen had offered him money to promote alternatives to Mr. Mbeki in
the media. 

"It's organized," said Smuts Ngonyama, a spokesman for the A.N.C., of the
alleged conspiracy to undermine the president. "We are clear that it is
organized by certain circles in the media and that a small pocket within
business circles is definitely involved in this dirty campaign. It's
nothing else but a resistance of transformation."

In the 1970's, when Mr. Mbeki was working for the A.N.C. in Zambia, he was
accused of being an informer for the Americans and for the British,
according to Mark Gevisser, a journalist who is writing an authorized
biography of Mr. Mbeki. 

In the 1980's, rumors surfaced again when he opened negotiations with white
South Africans. When Mr. Mbeki returned to South Africa in 1990's, he
outmaneuvered his rivals to become Mr. Mandela's deputy. But he and the
other freedom fighters did not forget the plots and threats they
experienced in exile.

"Even though he may well be the president and he may appear to be all
powerful, in the movement he has always had to fight for his position," Mr.
Gevisser said. "This has induced a certain level of paranoia."

Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/28/world/28AFRI.html

Louis Proyect
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