AT THE BACK of my Afrikaans classroom at school was a cartoon depicting a frog with his head shoved down a heron’s throat, both arms strangling the bird’s neck.
The metaphor can easily be applied to the relationship between Thabo Mbeki and his ANC deputy, Jacob Zuma. They have reached a stalemate in a bitter competition to become head of the ruling party – and ultimately this country.
Both have it in their power to destroy each other’s political futures, and only one can survive.
Should Jacob Zuma win the ANC presidency at the Polokwane conference, he will use everything in his power to destroy his opponent’s powerbase, deploying loyal cadres to key positions within the party and, in 2009, the government. It is likely that with the power at his disposal, a Prez Zuma will ensure that Mbeki goes to trial as the latter would appear to be mired in as much (if not more) Arms Deal dirt as his deputy is.
The skeletons are rattling loudly in the war chest, and Mbeki is trying to make damn sure they stay in there. With Zuma in charge, all sorts of skandaal could come out, leaving the man with his dignity (something which he strangely sets great store by) in tatters.
Mbeki is therefore doing his utmost to retain control of his party and legacy. Should he win, he will continue his relentless abuse of state power to consolidate his power base, thus ensuring that Zuma is charged , sentenced, imprisoned – and ultimately nullified politically.
Even with the conference looming, it is impossible to forecast what the result will be. In the run up, one thing is certain, however: both are searching desperately for a Plan B. For both contenders, the risks of losing are too great and the consequences of that loss, catastrophic. I think they’ve realised that it is in both their best interests – and in the interest of the ANC and of South Africa as a whole – that a third way is found.
It will provide Mbeki with what he surely craves – a dignified, safe exit with a “legacy” intact. And it will take the heat of Zuma (the political pressure will surely wane when he is no longer an immediate threat to the political survival of half a party… the Mbeki half, that is), so that he can fight for the position at another more tenable time (and without a prison sentence hanging over his head).
I still believe it is possible – perhaps even likely – that someone else, with the blessing of both frontrunners (after some sleepless nights of negotiation) will step forward to paper over the yawning division in the ANC, and postpone the party’s inevitable split for another time. Cyril, for example.
Only time will tell.