Leadership Split Threatens South African Democracy For the first time since South Africa's black-led government came to power in 1994 with the end of apartheid, the country's leadership is divided. And many worry about the danger of gridlock in a young democracy.
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Leadership Split Threatens South African Democracy

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Leadership Split Threatens South African Democracy

Leadership Split Threatens South African Democracy

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Next, South Africa at the crossroads. All week Charlayne Hunter-Gault has been reporting about South Africa. In the final installment, she examines the current state of the country's leadership, now divided for the first time since the new black-led government came to power in 1994. Many worry about the impact of having two centers of power and the possibility of gridlock in a young democracy that doesn't need it. Here's her report.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Since December South Africa's political foundations have been shaken to the core. The country confronted with something it never expected, a bitter and divisive power struggle at the top. The ruling African National Congress Party has been at least publicly united since Nelson Mandela's time as president of the party and the government. And that's how it been for the 14 years of black-led rule.

The party is elected and it chooses its leader and sends him to carry out its program as president of the nation. But in December that changed with a vengeance.

(Soundbite of cheering)

HUNTER-GAULT: At the big party congress in the town of Polokwane, Jacob Zuma defeated Thabo Mbeki for the powerful ANC presidency. Mbeki had been South Africa's president since 1999, when he succeeded Nelson Mandela. But his second and final term ends next year, and the party determines his successor.

The person in line for the post is Jacob Zuma, Mbeki's former deputy in government whom he fired over corruption charges, and the ANC has sent its deputy president to parliament to function, some say, as a shadow president. Many fear this division of power could hobble the nation. But Zuma denies there is a problem.

Mr. JACOB ZUMA (Successor to President Thabo Mbeki, South Africa): There are no two centers of power and there are no two views.

HUNTER-GAULT: But almost on a daily basis there have been signs of two different views, if not two centers of power.

Unidentified Woman: Times of change sweep through Parliament as Zuma allies nominate one of their own, Nathi Mthethwa, as Chief Whip.

HUNTER-GAULT: Often leading the news, stories about the emboldened Zuma camp putting its own people in power and dismissing Mbeki allies in the party, in parliament, in the public broadcaster and even the nation's security forces.

Unidentified Woman: He condemned reports of human rights violations and torture in Zimbabwe.

HUNTER-GAULT: Also leading the news, Zuma trumping Mbeki on the situation in neighboring Zimbabwe. Mbeki has stuck to a softly, softly approach with President Robert Mugabe over the drawn-out electoral standoff. But the contest between Mugabe and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change has led to widespread violence and intimidation. When asked about the situation in Zimbabwe, Mbeki spoke softly again.

President THABO MBEKI (South Africa): It's a process which I instituted in order to ensure that indeed by the time the results are released there is as little controversy as is possible.

(Soundbite of singing)

HUNTER-GAULT: However, at a rally Zuma seized international attention by sharply criticizing Mugabe's handling of the election.

Mr. ZUMA: Besides the unacceptable manner in which the election results have been handled in Zimbabwe, the reports of violence and the pictures that we've seen of injured people in the process of trying to address this issue would certainly be unacceptable.

HUNTER-GAULT: And many South Africans are worried about what appears to be two centers of power and that will mean for a young country still in the process of solidifying its democratic foundations. Political analyst Xolela Mangcu.

Mr. XOLELA MANGCU (Political Analyst): You can't really sustain a society running it around such parallel lines. At some point the system is just going to break down.

HUNTER-GAULT: On the ground where the divisions between the haves and have-nots is growing in almost every sector, there is also unease.

Mr. HAN VERSAGE (Member, Independent Democrats, Local Counselor): My view is to broke the foundation of the nation.

HUNTER-GAULT: Han Versage is a member of the opposition Independent Democrats and a local counselor in a poor agricultural community where resources are so limited, doctors at the public hospital work only the first two weeks of each month. Versage argues the divisions are affecting service delivery on the ground.

Mr. VERSAGE: Because they are divided in local government as well as provincial government, you can feel the dividing, that there's two powers.

HUNTER-GAULT: Versage says he's worried about where that will lead.

Mr. VERSAGE: I think violence is in front of the door.

HUNTER-GAULT: Xolela Mangcu doesn't believe violence will erupt but says these divisions may drag on.

Mr. MANGCU: Unless you have a transcendent leader, something that's going to stay with us for quite a while, because the divisions and the enmities are just too deep.

HUNTER-GAULT: Barney Pityana, a lawyer and theologian, argues that transcendent leader is not Jacob Zuma - not least because of his trial for rape of an HIV-positive woman. Zuma was acquitted, but his reputation suffered from his claim he protected himself from contracting HIV by taking a shower after sex. There are also corruption charges he will have to defend against in court later this year. Barney Pityana...

Mr. BARNEY PITYANA (Lawyer, Theologian): These are serious enough matters for somebody at his position to actually seriously lead a country that really needs to be catapulted out of its current morass of serious crime, violence and all that corruption. As well as at a time when we needed to capture something of a moral high ground that I've actually come to believe our liberation struggle is about. And I don't think that Zuma represents the best that we could have had.

HUNTER-GAULT: ANC spokesperson Jesse Duarte disagrees.

Ms. JESSE DUARTE (Spokesperson, ANC): The moral authority that JZ does bring is this one of unity and cohesion, of making sure that it is the united ANC with cohesive policies that drives the process, and not an individual who has a very strong personality that drives the process.

HUNTER-GAULT: This and the ongoing leadership debates make it seem likely that the governing party's stiffest opposition will come not from the relatively weak parties in the country, but from within the ruling party itself.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, NPR News, Johannesburg, South Africa.

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