SOME of the top six members of the African National Congress (ANC) apparently almost had a nervous breakdown during the period after the removal of Thabo Mbeki as president of the ruling party and his recall by his own party in September 2008.

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by Aubrey Matshiqi

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zuma mugabe

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With the election of Jacob Zuma as president of the ANC in December 2007, two centres of power came into being — the person in charge of the Union Buildings and the landlord of Luthuli House were no longer the same person.

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This followed a decision by the ANC’s national policy conference earlier in 2007 that, in terms of the elegant formulation that was proposed by the then-deputy president of the party, Kgalema Motlanthe, the president of the party and that of the country should “preferably” be the same person. The aim was to avoid a situation in which the two centres of power would come into conflict with each other given the fact that Mbeki would not be head of state after the 2009 general election, with Zuma having ascended to the presidency of the ANC in 2007. So, Mbeki was, among other reasons, recalled for the sake of the party.

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A member of the top six told me the clashes between Luthuli House and the Union Buildings after Mbeki had been outvoted in Polokwane convinced him that the ANC should never return to that uncomfortable space again.

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Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on the political interests at stake, some in the ruling party have been flirting with the idea of extending Zuma’s term as ANC president to the end of his term as president of the country in 2019.

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Those of a politically more ambitious bent have, however, been flirting with a more attractive option. They want Zuma to stay on as ANC president until 2022 at least, in case, I suppose, the need arises to beatify and then canonise him as a permanent leader of the party.

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I am being facetious, of course, but I suspect the newly elected president of the ANC Youth League was not being impertinent when he called upon the ANC to grant Zuma a third term.

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I have my own suspicions about why Zuma must get a third term but do not have the space to share all of them with you.

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It is now almost common cause, at least outside the ANC, that those who support the president do not trust Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

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They, for reasons that are not always obvious to me, are afraid that Ramaphosa is the kind of chap who would not discourage the reinstatement of corruption charges against Zuma were the gods of some ANC faction to deem this necessary for the cleansing of the spirit of our polity. In more graphic language, Ramaphosa will send Zuma to jail.

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Their fears may have been reinforced by reports that I have not confirmed independently that a group of demons tried to devour the president in the presence of King Goodwill Zwelithini.

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I am not that gullible. I do not believe Ramaphosa is the kind of politician with the gumption to order prison clothes for a former president of the ANC.

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What I do believe is that, possessed by factional spirits, some have constructed a lie they think will prevent Ramaphosa from becoming ANC president in 2017.

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Zuma will be recalled for a third term as ANC president if all other attempts against Ramaphosa fail.

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But what we must bear in mind is the possibility that for some in the ANC, blocking Ramaphosa may not necessarily be about a third term for Zuma.

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All they need to do is to convince Zuma’s supporters that they are acting in Zuma’s interests in order to maximise the chances of preventing Ramaphosa from ascending to the throne in 2017.

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For this ruse to succeed, the point of divergence between themselves and the supporters of Zuma must remain hidden until the 2017 conference elects neither Zuma nor Ramaphosa as ANC president.

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But what may kill the idea of a third term is the fact that politicians are not philanthropists who act in the best interests of another when their membership of patronage networks hinges on the interests of another becoming the dominant feature of internal party dynamics.

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Anyway, the idea of a third term for Zuma may be too divisive, notwithstanding the alleged efforts of the alleged “Premier League”, and therefore too ghastly to contemplate, even for those who currently support the president.

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• Matshiqi is an independent political analyst and this article was first published by the Business Day

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