Mbeki blasts Zuma's leadership
The gloves came off in the ANC this weekend as former president Thabo Mbeki lashed President Jacob Zuma's leadership of the country, warning that South Africa was being allowed to "progress towards a costly disaster of a protracted and endemic general crisis".
Mbeki did not mention Zuma by name, but it was clear whom he had in mind when he expressed "great unease" at "a dangerous and unacceptable situation of directionless and unguided national drift".
His remarks earned a sharp rebuke from ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, who said South Africa had progressed since Zuma had taken office. He cited advances in the fight against Aids since Mbeki had left office.
With Zuma seeking re-election to the post of ANC president at the party's national congress in Mangaung in December, Mbeki's highly critical remarks will strengthen the hand of those opposing him.
Mbeki made the remarks in an OR Tambo memorial lecture he delivered as part of the ANC's centenary celebrations at the University of Fort Hare in Alice in the Eastern Cape on Friday.
He hinted that he was weighing his options, saying: "As we meet here at Fort Hare, I, for one, am not certain about where our country and nation will be tomorrow, and what I should do in this regard.
"My feeling of unease is also informed by what I sense is a pervasive understanding throughout the nation that there is no certainty about our future with regard to any of our known challenges, and therefore the future of the nation.
"This is underlined by a troubled, pessimistic sentiment among many families in our country about whether their children can expect a better future, contrary to the travails the parents of these young people had to endure, including the students at this university," said Mbeki.
The event was organised by the ANC Youth League branch at the university.
Mantashe told the Sunday Times that many of the problems the government faced dated from Mbeki's time in office .
"We are dealing with old problems. But if his judgment is that we are losing direction, it is up to him.
"There were statistics released this week on the impact of the HIV/Aids programme that is in place now. Life expectancy rate has grown from 52 years to 60 years. That is an improvement. If you look at the sharp decline in infant mortality ... if you look at the sharp decline in the transmission of mother-to-child [HIV transmission] ... that is progress. If these achievements are a loss of direction, it's fine," said Mantashe.
Mbeki's speech comes at a time when South Africa is grappling with the downgrading of the economy by international ratings agencies Moody's and Standard and Poor's, and marks the first time Mbeki has openly criticised the ANC and its government since his axing in September 2008, after which he decided not to comment on domestic politics.
Mbeki said it would be "treacherous to hide our heads in the sand and behave as though we remain on course in terms of the achievement of our shared and various national objectives".
"I know that what I have just said might not sit easily in the minds and hearts of some circles here at home and abroad, which I would understand.
"However, I also know ... that it will not be possible to correct whatever might have gone wrong, and therefore address our challenges in this regard, unless all of us have the honesty and courage publicly to state what we believe is true," he said.
Mbeki did not spare himself from blame, saying that, during the time he served in the ANC leadership, the party had failed to recruit members who were "politically mature and committed cadres".
Had they done so, he said, it might have made it possible to "insulate our movement from the 'staffriders' who came on board the ANC train, intent on using their membership as a stepladder to access state power and abuse this power for self-enrichment".
"The real and hard truth is that ... the current leadership of the ANC [has] inherited this failure, which lies at the base of much that is going wrong in our country," said Mbeki.
Yesterday Cosatu general-secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said the labour federation was "extremely concerned" about the image of South Africa in the international media.
"We want investment opportunities to flow in our direction. We don't want our country to be presented as a chaotic place where there is no rule of law, where dog eats dog, where the mode of operation is survival of the fittest," he said.
Vavi said portraying South Africa as a country without leadership created the wrong impression in the eyes of the world. He said that Cosatu, concerned about the state of affairs, had engaged Zuma on the matter - culminating in the president urging striking miners to go back to work and reassuring investors South Africa was still a sound investment destination.
Political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi said: "It seems those that are an integral part of forces that want change are using these platforms to launch attacks on their political opponents."