Mbeki, Zuma meet after nearly a year
Mbeki and his African National Congress (ANC) deputy were the main guests of honour at the Bambatha Zondi centenary commemoration last week, held to mark the posthumous reinstatement of chief Bambatha to the throne of the Zondi clan.
Chief Bambatha was removed from the Zondi chieftainship by the British in 1906 after leading the famous Bambatha rebellion against poll tax.
But the deliberations for the ceremony were partly overshadowed by the first public appearance of both Mbeki and Zuma, which is understood to have last taken place when Mbeki axed Zuma from the post of deputy president.
The two appeared cordial, shaking hands and breaking into laughter when Zuma, dressed in traditional Zulu regalia was called to speak.
The ANC deputy president received resounding applause when he took the stage, an apparent sign of the massive support he still holds around the country despite widely held perceptions that his support base waned during his rape trial.
A government spokesperson said Zuma had appeared at the event as a guest of the Zondi family, and not as a guest of the government, which organized the ceremony.
Political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi said the appearance of the two ANC bosses at the same even was significant, particularly considering its timing, when talk of a conflict between them is threatening to split the ANC.
“Whether by design or default, the two of them addressing a public meeting together will send a positive message of unity in the ANC. It will have a positive effect,” he said.
Analysts believe the “split” within the ANC became apparent after Mbeki fired Zuma last year, following a court ruling that Zuma had a “generally corrupt” relationship with his financial advisor Shabir Schaik.
In the aftermath of the court ruling and throughout a more recent trial in which he was acquitted of charges of raping a family friend, Zuma frequently said he was the victim of a political conspiracy designed to prevent him from becoming the next president of the country and the ANC.
His statements were apparently backed by findings in the “hoax e-mail saga” in which a series of e-mails were discovered in which senior ANC members were found to be plotting Zuma’s ouster from the party.
The ANC has vehemently denied the allegations of a conspiracy, and has quashed all talk of “instability” within the party due to the rumour.
In a recent instalment of his weekly ANC newsletter, Mbeki denied reports of a conflict between Zuma and himself, saying the sentiments were “nothing but the vain wishes” of their inventors.
Mbeki also rejected views that the ANC was crumbling due to a ‘leadership crisis’ that was being caused by his “conflict” with Zuma.
He said the reality of the situation in the ANC would in coming months disprove assertions that the ruling party was in any threat.
“There are some in our country who find it in their fundamental interest to propagate the false message that the current, and very strange, public controversy that relates to our movement centres on a supposed life and death conflict between the president and the deputy president of the ANC”.
“Without doubt, actual reality over the next 18 months, rather than the wishes of some forces in our country and elsewhere in the world, will prove that the speculative prediction that the ANC may not ‘survive intact’, is nothing more than an expression of the vain wishes of its inventors.
Mbeki cited a recent newspaper article suggesting that the current “ANC succession battle” raised questions over whether the party could survive the next 18 months to the conference in December next year when Mbeki’s successor is due to be elected.
But observers are still sceptical that efforts to quash talk of a conflict will be successful. Matshiqi said the public appearance of both Zuma and Mbeki would “not do much to reduce the political temperature around the Zuma crisis”.
For close to a year, the ruling party has been rocked by speculation that Zuma’s intensive lobbying for the positions of party and national president after the expiry of Mbeki’s term in 2009 was tearing it apart.