SUNDAY TIMES - Fear and loathing as ANC titans prepare to clash
Sunday Times STLive By Sunday Times Editorial , 2012-03-25 00:03:53.0

Fear and loathing as ANC titans prepare to clash

IT NOW seems certain that there will be a serious contest for the position of ANC president - and therefore all the other top positions - at the party's Mangaung conference in December.

Senior aides of Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe confirmed to this newspaper last week that he would stand for the top job if nominated by more than one ANC region.

The spectre of "another Polokwane" has been raised and there is real concern over what this means for South Africa.

What must be avoided is the unseemly spectacle which played itself out as the nation watched in 2007.

The sight of baying party members shouting down the president and disrupting the meeting with singing and chanting sent a message of bullying and intolerance which did not do this country proud.

But there can be no denying that Polokwane represented a watershed moment for South Africa.

That a sitting president was removed from office by his party set a healthy precedent: power could not be taken for granted.

But what followed Polokwane was distinctly unhealthy.

Former president Thabo Mbeki was removed from office because he was said to have interfered in the criminal justice system to further his political ends.

But, instead of shoring up the criminal justice system, his successor, President Jacob Zuma, set about dismantling the Scorpions and appointing an unsuitable person, Menzi Simelane, to head the prosecuting authority.

Zuma's appointment of Bheki Cele as national police commissioner and of Richard Mdluli to head crime intelligence showed, at best, poor judgment.

If the Polokwane revolution was about increasing the effectiveness and independence of the criminal justice system, it has done the opposite.

The other plank of the anti-Mbeki camp was that he operated as a powerful centrist figure who quashed critical voices within the party.

But it would seem that his replacement has taken cronyism to a new level.

The looming battle at Mangaung will doubtless be the scene of promises to clean up the party, stop the cronyism and restore the ANC's internal democratic processes. But, this time, the watching public will be more sceptical.

Hope that the listing ANC might right itself is diminishing. There is no sign yet that anyone has a credible plan to drag the party out of the quagmire of corruption and internal dissent into which it has sunk.

There is certainly no sign that anyone will be able to re-establish the boundary between party and state.

The public loves a gladiatorial spectacle - and Mangaung promises to deliver one. But restoring public confidence in the ANC leadership will take more than a clash of the titans.