The current competition for top leadership positions in the SWAPO Party is a healthy sign of democracy within the party. It is also a sign of political maturity and courage for senior SWAPO Party members to openly challenge each other for leadership positions in conformity with the SWAPO party constitution. In the final analysis, the will of the people (through the delegates to party congress) will have to be respected. The delegates to the party congress acting on behalf of the general membership will choose the top four leaders of the party. To attempt to impose leaders on the general membership in this age and in the current environment (even if the intentions could be good) is a recipe for further deepening the divisions that will eventually weaken the party.
Furthermore, there should be no fear of the so called “two centres of power” because in reality there is only “one centre” of power, and that is the SWAPO party, not the individuals who occupy leadership positions in the party or government. As representatives of ordinary SWAPO party members, delegates to the party congress will be required to cast their votes through secret ballot without intimidation. Therefore the current “block endorsements” of a group of candidates without subjecting them to individual scrutiny and merit is an infringement of the individual delegates’ right to secret ballot.
“Two Centres of Power” verses “One Centre of Power”:
In this paper, I will make use of the experience of the African National Congress (ANC) in South African to show that the notion of “two centres of power” can work very well if the people occupying leadership positions are not egoistic, but remain loyal to the party (and its members), and through the party to the whole nation. This was the case in South Africa during 1997-1999 when Nelson Mandela was the state President and Thabo Mbeki was the President of the ANC party. There was harmony and no conflict between the two leaders and the two centres of power – party and government – because both Mandela and Mbeki subjected themselves to the ANC. In contrast, the notion of “one centre of power” as exercised by Jacob Zuma (as State President & President of ANC) has led to unprecedented abuse of state power and state resources by Zuma to bribe or ‘reward’ loyalists and shenanigans at the expense of well tested, ethical and competent party members. Critics of the Zuma regime argue that the concentration of power in the hands of Zuma as ANC president and state president has led to higher levels of corruption and disregard of the party constitution never witnessed before in the history of the ANC. The misuse of state power and resources by president Zuma to reward shenanigans and to “fix” dissenting voices in the party and government has weakened the ANC.
This is evidenced by declining popularity through ANC loses in municipal/regional or local government elections; the increase in factions within ANC; and the weakening of the tripartite alliance between the ANC, the South African Communist Party (SACP), and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). So the notion of one centre of power combines party powers and state powers in the hands of one person who can easily abuse power without checks and balances.
The debate about the merits and demerits of “two centres of power” in relation to “one centre” of power was not there when Nelson Mandela was state president and Thabo Mbeki was the ANC president because of the good leadership qualities of the two leaders. Both leaders regarded themselves as “servants of the people.” Both were subjected to the ANC and their desire was to serve the best interests of the people in humility – acknowledging that it was an honour for them to serve and the real power rested with the people who had elected them.
The two leaders did not abuse their positions because they knew that power belonged to their organisation and the people who had elected them. They did not have any self-interest.
Mbeki vs Zuma:
Thabo Mbeki later became the state President of South Africa during 1999-2008 with Jacob Zuma as the deputy state President from 1999 to 2005. In 2005, Mbeki relieved Jacob Zuma of his position as deputy state President of South Africa because Zuma was implicated in a corruption scandal that brought the government into disrepute.
There were member within the ANC who supported Mbeki and those who supported Zuma.
In December 2007 Jacob Zuma defeated Mbeki at the Party congress that was held in Polokwane to become the new ANC party President while Mbeki remained the state president.
This seems to have increased the rift within the ANC between Mbeki’s supporters and Zuma supporters. Those who supported Zuma at the Polokwane congress began a relentless campaign that Zuma (as new party president) should become the state president when ANC won the general elections in 2007 in order to have one centre of power.
So the propaganda about the demerits of the so called two centres of power was initiated by Zuma and his shenanigans in order to pave the way for Zuma to assume absolute power for self-interests.
In essence, the differences between Mbeki and Zuma had nothing to do with the different leadership positions which each one of them held in the party and government (two centres of power), but rather due to Zuma’s wish to side line Mbeki, and due to different values, ideological and ethical outlooks.
The ANC later ‘recalled’ Mbeki from his position as state president in 2008 (nine months before he completed his term), due to a legal challenge. The ANC subsequently appointed Kgalemo Motlanthe as the care taker state president.
The recall of Mbeki from his state president position by the ANC clearly demonstrated that the party was the main centre of power.
After the general elections in 2009, Zuma became the new state president of South Africa.
(To be continued…)