When the question of the succession debate was put to President Mbeki in Parliament during the course of last year, he said we should let the nation debate this. However what he failed to acknowledge was that the nation has no recognised forum to debate this matter in. Nor does the nation have any legal method of actually influencing the succession debate because those decisions are taken within ANC structures by a small elite.

As early as 2004 certain members of the Tripartite Alliance declared that Jacob Zuma will become President irrespective of the outcome of the Shaik court trial. In the years since then a messy sequence of political infighting has unfolded, crippling service delivery in many local councils and even dragging the name of the national intelligence structures through the mud. The battle for control that now rages within the ANC is destructive and seems driven purely by an obsession with power and has nothing to do with policy, ideology or the best interests of the country.

It is for this reason that the time has arrived for South Africans to review the electoral system which currently makes the President of the country accountable to his or her party and not directly to the voters.

South Africans must campaign for electoral reform so that the election of the President in this country can happen in the public domain, instead of being confined to the backrooms of political parties. The essence of democracy is that every citizen should have a say in who governs them, instead of leaving it to an exclusive group of individuals with their own personal agendas that have nothing to do with the national interest.

South Africans have become accustomed to conflating the presidential succession race for the ANC with the presidential succession of the republic, hence the intense interest with which upcoming ANC party conferences and congresses are being viewed. Some ANC structures have asked Mbeki to remain on as President of the ANC, even though he would not be able to stand again as President of the Republic.

Even most commentators fail to distinguish between the two succession debates and discuss them together as one issue.

As far as the ANC succession debate is concerned, I don't believe there is any individual within the ANC, even Jacob Zuma, who would challenge Mbeki in the forthcoming congress for ANC President. There is an organisational culture and history at work here. When seen in the context of the immediate past (the Tambo and Mandela eras), Mbeki's tenure of office if it ended now would be short, and he would have been the youngest serving ANC President to be disposed of. In a nutshell, Mbeki is a serving President and whoever challenges him will face a mammoth task to motivate to the structures why they should replace Mbeki as ANC leader. So far, the "likely candidate" has little to motivate replacing Mbeki; the arguments that have been advanced are that Mbeki had unjustly removed Zuma as Deputy President of the country and that Mbeki is aloof. I doubt whether these arguments hold much water among the people who will decide the ANC leadership succession. They know for instance that Cabinet members serve at the discretion of the President and he need only operate on the balance of probabilities and need not explain why he expels a cabinet member.

If for one reason or another Mr Zuma were to accept a nomination to challenge Mbeki for ANC presidency, then I suspect the same trend as occurred in Cosatu structures will be witnessed. Madisha was said to be pro-Mbeki and would thus face the chop, and similar arguments were made about the recent ANC Eastern Cape provincial congress, but in the end these threats did not materialise. If Zuma were to stand for ANC Presidency he would commit political suicide and become a loser because the reasons his camp have advanced thus far look merely like personal gripes not political arguments. If he dared and lost in his bid, he could not be ANC Deputy President either, because the Mbeki camp would have to select their own Deputy President candidate for the national congress. The ANC leadership I predict will return unopposed, unless something happens on the legal front as a result of the noises that continue to emanate from the NPA. What I expect is that the ANC leadership will stand largely unopposed in their current positions (with Zuma as Deputy President) and emerge from their national congress as a united front in order to address the concerns that the image of the country and the party has been dented by the public divisions.

In the past it was automatic that a serving ANC President would become President of the Republic, but if Mbeki continues as ANC President, then the ANC faces the challenge of how to change this policy, unless the ANC amends the Constitution to give him a third term as South African President. This is where I suspect Mbeki aimed his comments about the nation debating the issue of succession.

The energies and focus of the nation should be on looking beyond the ANC leadership elections at the end of this year, because in line with the argument advanced above I believe the question of the ANC succession is closed. All of us, and the ANC itself for that matter, should be contemplating how and who will become President of the country beyond the ANC congress results of December this year.

When Mbeki called for debate on this issue he was perhaps trying to avoid being accused of anointing a successor. But there is no denying that if he is ANC President he will have an immense influence on who becomes President of the country. South Africans will also have to debate as a nation to what extent the President of the country will be answerable to the people and to what extent he or she will be answerable to Mbeki at Luthuli House or to the headquarters of whichever party wins the elections. The need for debate on these matters is undeniable because it is apparent from the ANC's own discussion documents that they have not reached any internal clarity on these important questions. As I have indicated at the outset, it is difficult to see any realistic and democratic solutions in this regard that does not include electoral reform to provide for a separately elected President. In fact, such an electoral reform should encourage individual political parties with more than one candidate who aspire to the highest office to run public primaries. That would prevent one faction from keeping a person with the necessary leadership skills from standing for election as President of the country.