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THE BIG READ: All too familiar scenario

S'thembiso Msomi | 2012-06-13 00:02:39.0

Is President Jacob Zuma headed for the same precipice as his ANC predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, ahead of a crucial ruling party conference?

Remember how Mbeki, just weeks before the ANC's national general council in 2005, fired Zuma as the country's deputy president after a judgment in the Schabir Shaik corruption trial that was damning for the then deputy president?

Remember, too, how Mbeki - in the run up to the 2007 ANC national conference - dilly-dallied over axing Jackie Selebi despite serious corruption allegations hanging over the then national police commissioner's head.

Undoubtedly, the two incidents played a great part in Mbeki losing his ANC job and subsequently being unceremoniously recalled from the Union Buildings some eight months before his term in office expired.

The protest at the 2005 national general council against Zuma's firing from the cabinet, and branch-level opposition to a bid by Mbeki's supporters to have Zuma removed from the ANC national executive committee, marked the beginning of a rebellion against Mbeki's bid for a third term as party leader.

Would the upcoming ANC national policy conference, scheduled for June 26 to 29 in Midrand, go down in history as having been the start of a revolt against Zuma and his desire to be re-elected ANC president?

If so, two issues are likely to be the main rallying points for those leading the charge against Zuma.

The most obvious is the expulsion of ANC Youth League president Julius Malema and two of his trusted lieutenants.

Malema's latest bid to have his banishment to political wilderness overturned was shot down at Monday's special ANC NEC meeting, with the majority of leaders saying there was "no compelling reason" for the committee to review the rulings of the national disciplinary committee of appeal.

Although ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe was adamant during a press conference yesterday that the NEC decision meant the Malema matter was closed for good, you should bank on Malema supporters trying to force it onto the policy conference's agenda in two weeks' time.

Malema's sympathis ers would believe they have history on their side. In 2005, just days before the NGC, the ruling party's top leaders had met in Luthuli House where they "accepted" Zuma's offer to step down as party deputy president while trying to clear his name on corruption and fraud charges .

But the "acceptance" of Zuma's effective resignation was to be overturned by angry delegates at the NGC, giving an important political lifeline to a politician who by then seemed destined for political oblivion and even jail.

Just like Mantashe says the Malema matter is now closed, pro-Mbeki leaders at the time spent many of the days leading up to the 2005 NGC arguing that the issue would not be part of the conference's agenda. They were to learn the hard way that even the supposedly powerful NEC cannot dictate to delegates during a national gathering of party branches and regions.

Are Zuma and Mantashe about to be taught a hard lesson at the policy conference?

What seems to be working in their favour is that, as things stand, supporters of Zuma's second-term bid seem to have the backing of the majority of the party's structures.

With the largest province, KwaZulu-Natal, as well as Mpumalanga, Free State, the Women's League and even the MK Military Veterans' Association likely to back Luthuli House's decision, it does seem as if Malema will not have his way.

But loyalty in the ANC, especially in an elective conference year, is very fluid. Provinces such as Limpopo, Northern Cape, sections of the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape and North West are most likely to join the league in calling for his reinstatement. The same could be done by Gauteng although the province's leaders, while supportive of the movement that wants change within the ruling party, are weary of aligning themselves with the divisive Malema.

Another source of rebellion against Zuma, especially in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal, could be his handling of disgraced national police commissioner Bheki Cele's axing.

You would think that Cele's firing following adverse findings against him by a board of inquiry led by Judge Jake Moloi into his fitness to hold office would have been a straightforward issue and that everybody would agree that the president has no option but to act.

However, such matters are never that simple in the ANC. Cast your mind back to June 2005 when Mbeki stood before parliament to explain why he was "releasing" Zuma from his duties. Very few here and abroad found fault with the president's reasoning, especially given Judge Hilary Squires' findings about the relationship between Shaik and Zuma. Yet in the ANC, this was a source of much unhappiness.

News from KwaZulu-Natal suggests party structures were angry at the prospect of Cele - a former local politician - being fired. While they conceded that Cele could not possibly remain in the post given the findings, they wanted him redeployed elsewhere in the government and returned to the ANC's NEC.

ANC structures in KwaZulu-Natal has so far appeared unanimous in their belief that Zuma should serve another term.

Will Cele's axing drive a section of the province into the arms of those campaigning against Zuma?

We will know in two weeks.

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