Mbeki caught up in the bitter pit-bull fight to control ANC

JOHANNESBURG – The power struggle threatening the ruling party has permeated the intelligence agencies and the diplomatic corps, while dragging Zimbabwean mediator, former South African president Thabo Mbeki into the political rumpus.

Some ANC leaders believe that an innocuous diplomatic letter to missions about the presidential photographs is evidence that Mbeki is backing dissidents.

The letter is now circulating at Luthuli House as an exhibit of Mbeki’s involvement in the plot to divide the ANC.

The letter, written by chief of state protocol Kingsley Makhubela to diplomatic missions, cautioned against removing photographs of Mbeki and former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at South African embassies abroad.

"As per decisions of the departmental management committee held yesterday, missions are kindly advised that photographs of the former president and deputy president should not be removed from the walls until further notice. Missions will be advised in due course on when to remove these photographs.

"Photographs of the new president and the deputy president will be forwarded to the mission once they are readily available," Makhubela said.

A senior ANC leader said this was an indication that "the Mbeki people were not planning to relinquish power".

However, department of foreign affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa on Thursday said photos of President Kgalema Motlanthe had been put up on the walls of South African embassies.

He said the photo of Deputy President Baleka Mbete was received only on Thursday.

It is believed Makhubela’s letter was an attempt to allay confusion created by the removal of Mbeki.

However, the intensity of the power struggle resulted in the leaking of a diplomatic message to ambassadors.

Mbeki’s hidden hand is highly suspected in the current moves rattling the ruling party.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said Mbeki had predicted a move to destroy the ANC four years ago, but said this was not to associate the former president with plots to destabilise the ruling party.

The Intelligence Ministry has denied the involvement of the domestic spy agency in the illegal surveillance of former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota after reports that he was trailed by a suspicious-looking car.

"The agency’s operational directives are also clear on when intrusive methods such as surveillance can be applied. The minister for intelligence services, Dr Siyabonga Cwele, has looked into the allegation and found no unlawful operation," said spokesperson Lorna Daniels.

Meanwhile, the ANC has decided to confront the dissidents head-on.

Mantashe said they would proceed with disciplinary actions against Lekota and former deputy defence minister Mluleki George.

He said this was a formality as the two were likely to resign and follow former Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa, who is hoping to form a new political party.

The ANC tried not to alienate its constituencies in the Free State by retaining premier Beatrice Marshoff.

This is despite ANC leader Jacob Zuma’s statement last week that the premier had given the provincial party leadership problems.

Marshoff’s retention is apparently a bid by the ANC to minimise the impact of the dissidents after the resignation of ex-Free State ANC secretary Charlotte Lobe on Wednesday.

The province is expected to provide a platform for the dissidents, led by Lekota, on Sunday while Shilowa was to brief traditional leaders in Limpopo today.