Jacob Zuma, the new leader of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, has claimed supremacy over his bitter rival, Thabo Mbeki, the country’s president, whom he ousted as party president last year, saying unequivocally that power resides in the ANC and not the presidency.
Speaking to the Financial Times, he all but dismissed Mr Mbeki and his cabinet ministers as lame ducks as he sought to stamp his authority on the country and address the bitter power struggle that has left business people worried the country is leaderless.
“Power lies in the ANC,” he said. “It’s the ANC that wins elections, the ANC that has the power to identify people who must be part of government ... If he [the president] is not part of the ANC leadership, he doesn’t have authority.”
In an interview in the party headquarters, Mr Zuma, who relied on the support of the unions and the left to take over the party, repeated his mantra that the advent of a new party leader did not mean that ANC economic policies would change.
But in a reflection of his balancing act between wooing business and satisfying his power base in the unions, he refused to rule out a debate on a left-ward shift of economic policy.
Asked if he would consider supporting calls by the Communist party for a return to nationalisation, he said that, if asked to give a view on such a shift, he would not make a definitive statement, but rather would open a discussion. “I think let the issues be put on the table so that we discuss what are the merits of that argument,” he said.
Such equivocation is increasingly exasperating business people as they seek to understand the implications of his takeover of the party in last December’s five-yearly ANC conference. In the past two months South Africa’s business confidence has suffered a series of blows, primarily caused by an electricity crisis that has led to rolling power cuts but also compounded by uncertainty about the direction of the ruling ANC.
Given the ANC’s electoral dominance, as party leader Mr Zuma is on paper the out-and-out favourite to be the country’s next president after next year’s elections. But first he has to overcome a trial in August on charges of corruption, fraud, racketeering and tax evasion.
He reiterated his longstanding charge that the prosecutors have pursued a politicised agenda in their seven-year investigation, and dismissed the idea of not competing in the elections while he sought to clear his name. “It is a very funny case, very funny,” he said.
Mr Zuma was concerned about the rand’s 15 per cent fall in value since the start of the year. He said he would like it to strengthen but attributed its decline to global economic jitters as well as domestic uncertainties.
His strongest language was reserved for the fight against the country’s dire rate of violent crime, which has claimed two more high-profile victims this week and led to calls from a prominent black actor for a “million man” march to the government buildings.
He called for more “biting laws” and less focus on the rights of criminals, who he said were too easily released from prison. “We must strengthen the law so people mustn’t think that even if I commit a crime in any case it’s fine.” He also said he would not oppose a referendum on the death penalty that was abolished soon after the end of white rule, if there was a “sufficient majority” calling for one. But he added he was against the death penalty.
Par Alec Russel in The Financial Times, le 6 mars 2008