A bitter battle for power is raging in South Africa, pitting a sitting president who spearheaded the country's economic boom but alienated many of the poor, against his former deputy, whose reputation has survived rape and corruption trials.
President Thabo Mbeki is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term as the country's president, but it's clear he wants a say in who succeeds him once he leaves office in 2009 — and that he does not want it to be Jacob Zuma, whom he fired as deputy president.
Entwined with the Mbeki-Zuma rivalry are a series of national scandals that appear to have hurt Mbeki as much as Zuma. The battleground is the 52nd national convention of the African National Congress, or ANC, where delegates will choose a party president Dec. 16-20. Traditionally, the head of the party is its presidential candidate, and the ANC has such overwhelming support that its leader would be assured of winning elections. Over the weekend, the party's provincial and internal organizations made their nominations for party president, with Zuma winning endorsement from five provinces, the Youth and Women's Leagues.
The four provinces Mbeki did win were all close votes. In his stronghold in Eastern Cape province, he won 520 votes to 322 for Zuma. Total votes were 4,535 for Zuma and 2,815 for Mbeki.
Tokyo Sexwale, a 54-year-old tycoon who was imprisoned alongside Nelson Mandela on Robben Island and who retired from politics in 1998, has been raised as a possible compromise candidate.
Zuma is a flamboyant, charismatic former freedom fighter whose signature song, notoriously, has become "Bring me my machine gun." Two years ago, Mbeki fired Zuma when he was implicated in a corruption scandal.
"Zuma has stated that if he goes down, he will take the ANC with him, and read for that Thabo Mbeki," said Andrew Feinstein, who resigned as an ANC legislator when his efforts to investigate the arms deal were blocked.