As we gather here the topic of the forthcoming ANC National Conference has been analysed and pondered by commentators and political pundits of every stripe. Many assertions and predictions have been made in the past few months, many of them have already proven to be wrong. Nevertheless the outcomes of this event continue to capture the imagination of all South Africans because we realise that in less than two weeks a few thousand delegates will make significant decisions about the future of our country.
One of the biggest questions now is whether there is a possibility for a settlement between now and the conference between the two competing factions in the ANC. Whereas at this critical stage the focus among delegates should be on the policies that they will adopt, there doesn't seem to be any contention around policy. It therefore seems like the policies will be unanimously adopted, because all the attention has been on the succession and policy matters have taken a back seat.
The big issue is who will be the leader of the ANC on 21 December and become President of the country or determine who fills that position. On that score it looks like the two sides do not want to leave their trenches, in which case it will be a fight till the bitter end. This is where the leadership of the ANC will be tested. Fighting till the bitter end means that the politics become highly charged and personalised. People will feel personally aggrieved by the contest and that means that there will be those who would seek retribution or compensation in the aftermath of the Conference. Thus the challenge for the ANC leadership is whether they can meet and resolve this issue before the Conference. It must be remembered that culturally and historically the ANC is not used to the leadership being contested in this fashion, especially against a leader who has not committed any major scandal. It is because of this culture that some of the ANC members were seemingly complacent and only woke up very late to the intent of the campaigns of Mr Zuma, Vavi and others.
By the look of things it would appear that the main cause of the fallout among the ANC leadership is the Arms Deal. That dubious transaction continues to eat into the ANC body politic like a cancerous tumour.
It has for years grown under the surface. The situation got out of hand when the Government successfully prosecuted Mr Shabir Shaik and the most common phrase of the day was quote "a corrupt relationship" unquote, between Mr Shaik and Mr Zuma.
Therefore the suspicion of state-sponsored conspiracy against Mr Zuma could also form the basis for a vote of no confidence in Mr Mbeki at the Polokwane Conference. Essentially there might be those who will vote against Mr Mbeki on the basis that he stands accused of abusing state resources to pursue a political conspiracy against Mr Zuma. What we do know is that the judges, especially on appeal, have rejected the political conspiracy idea.
What also seems apparent is that the ANC will continue to fail to address the dark festering sore of the Arms Deal. It seems that neither camp will have the clarity of vision to see how the Arms Deal taints everything they do. History will look back upon these years, and the lack of leadership on this issue will be lamented.
Another matter that the delegates will have to consider in the same light as the Arms Deal, is the manner in which state influence and national resources have already been viewed as the trough from which those in power may eat to their hearts' content. Take for instance Oil-gate and the manner in which state influence and contracts have benefited certain well-connected ANC members and been used to fund the ruling party to the tune of millions at the taxpayer's expense. And isn't just oil, there have been many disturbing incidents of this nature involving strategic national resources and assets.
The country has taken note that Mr Mbeki won't be intimidated by those who said it would be best if the case against Mr Zuma was withdrawn. And Mr Zuma himself has repeatedly called for his day in court. Unfortunately he continues to refuse the Scorpions access to the information they need to finalise their investigations. And he continues to lose court cases in his quest to have the Scorpions prevented from investigating him.
One thing which this Arms Deal debacle has caused for the ANC is a breakdown of discipline. Some of the utterances and actions from all of those who are involved have actually brought both the ANC and the country into disrepute.
This is one area in both the reports of the ANC President and Secretary General in Polokwane where they will be asked to account by the party delegates. And depending on how the delegates feel about whether this disrepute was caused in the process of sacking the Deputy President, whether any disciplinary action should've been taken against those who have violated the party constitution?
We should also expect that there will be heated debate, accusations and counter-accusation about the way the Secretary General dealt with the whole dispute. Because it looks now as if he would be the main beneficiary in the fracas between the President and Deputy President. His public utterances seem to reflect that he was the main mobiliser for one camp against the other, and as if he wasn't loyal to his president. In Polokwane he will be put on the spot. The Secretary General will be asked as to his role in calling to order the Alliance partners and youth structures in terms of attacking one another, including the ANC President in public and the media, as well as the public destruction of party material.
The debate will therefore not be confined just to the President and Deputy President, the engine of the party - the Secretary General - will also have to account. It is not going to be easy for him, because he has already shown that he has a vested interest in the outcome of the succession battle. To an outside observer it would look like it would be to his advantage if both Mr Zuma and Mr Mbeki fell by the wayside. If this were to be true, the history will judge him as not being honest to his leaders.
Mr Mbeki, when he takes the podium in Polokwane, will have to clarify this confusion about a third term. Can he dispel the fears that his re-election isn't a ruse to send MPs to parliament to amend the Constitution for him to stand for a third term as President of the country? The country and the world requires that assurance from him that he will not seek a third term come 2009, whether or not his party supposedly wants him to rule or not. The delegates will need to take a firm resolution on this to dispel any doubt.
On the other hand, Mr Zuma might have to assure the people, that he isn't continuously using every trick in the legal book to avoid his trial from actually taking place. He would have to give the delegates and the country his assurance that it is not true that he is refusing to cooperate with the investigation and avoiding the day in court he has repeatedly called for.
He would also have to clarify to the delegates where does his conspiracy theory come from, given the fact that the judiciary in this country has repeatedly rejected that argument.
I'm sure, the delegates, after those reports have been thoroughly interrogated, and clarifying questions have been asked, will be able to apply their sober minds on the question of who is fooling whom in the whole saga.
One thing we cannot avoid is the truth in the saying that all politicians are not honest. It might well be that some of the sudden leaders who are lionizing Mr Zuma are vultures hovering above him waiting for the Scorpions to pounce, and then they will be the first to suggest that he should step down. For these opportunists it is not about principle or policy but about the quickest route to power and wealth. At this moment they are salivating at the possibility that Mr Zuma is their ticket to quick riches, but they will just as quickly turn on him if another faster or surer way presents itself.
Delegates would still have a wide array of choices after considering all these matters. They could even decide to nominate entirely new leaders from the floor, or they might decide to keep the status quo and instruct the leadership to sort out the mess they made.
The other thing which we cannot rule out as contributing to this heated contest, is a strategy by some among the ANC alliance partners who want to take over the ruling party by stealth because they do not want to face the electorate themselves. There is a general view that has been developing over the years in the ANC, that some structures have been fighting to control the soul of the ANC. The Polokwane Conference will put to the test those who claim to be defenders of the soul of the ANC and those who want to take it, and the contest is to see which cabal will take power.
Some delegates might question the wisdom of taking the chairperson of one party and making him the Secretary General of the ANC, because he subscribes to the policies and agenda of another party.
Indeed the delegates will have to realize that the entire concept of the Tripartite Alliance needs unpacking and consideration. What does it mean? What is the purpose of the Alliance? Does it mean that Alliance partners can say anything about the ruling party and claim a right to influence the policies, leadership and direction of the ruling party? Is there a need for a Code of Conduct, applicable to the entire alliance, to instil discipline among members of the alliance?
The infighting within the Tripartite Alliance indicates that there are discernible political shifts along interest group divides, distinguished by common concerns and aspirations. This process will not end in Polokwane but will move towards the crystallisation of two major political streams on the one hand, and the aspirations of the emerging major social groupings that feel marginalized at present, on the other hand.
However if ANC members vowed that the SACP and Cosatu cannot be allowed to advance their social agenda on the back of the ANC, we might witness sooner than later an emergence of two political formations representing the said interest groups; the "one broad church" concept will come to an end because it cannot contain two such competing streams indefinitely. Indeed, the SACP has been under pressure from its structures to be more independent, and even registered with the IEC as a political party that could contest elections.
I should remind this audience that I have publicly, and in numerous newspaper opinion pieces, been saying that perhaps the best way forward would be for Mr Zuma not to challenge Mr Mbeki for the presidency of the ANC. This would entail maintaining the status quo, with Mr Zuma remaining Deputy President. He and the Scorpions could cooperate in the next year on the investigation and if he is acquitted, the way is clear for him to still become President of the country. Rather than have a sitting ANC President arrested some time next year by the Scorpions. Because it is clear that if they continue down the path of the current showdown that whoever has won the race, their inner circle will dominate the new NEC and will determine who becomes the next President of the country.