The succession question: United Russia and the ANC compared

Isaac Mpho Mogotsi questions why Jacob Zuma has chosen to stand for re-election

On October 27 2011 the Moscow News, the Russian English-language newspaper, carried numerous opinion articles about the decision of the Russian Federation Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the Russian President Dmitry Medved to swap their official State positions in 2012.

This swap of leadership positions at the very top of the Russian State is called "tandem leadership".

Russian Tandem Leadership is meant to ensure stability and predictability in Russia's leadership transition.

The genesis of the dynamics of Russia's "tandem leadership" transition were laid in the accident of birth, namely that Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev were both born in then Leningrad, currently St Petersburgn, the former in 1942, and the latter in 1965.

It is this accident of birth which resulted in Dmitry Medvedev being recruited in 1999 to serve as Deputy Chief of Staff in the Presidential Administration of Acting President Vladimir Putin in late 1999.

From there it was a short step to Medvedev being appointed the presidential campaign manager for Vladimir Putin in the 2000 Russian national elections, which Putin went on to win with an overwhelming majority.

It was the first peaceful presidential transfer of power in post-Communist Russian from the ailing former Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, to his anointed successor, Vladimir Putin.

Until the Russian elections of 2000, Putin had served as Acting President of Russia from December 1999, following the sudden resignation of Boris Yeltsin as the first democratically elected President of the Russian Federation, due to ill-health and advanced age.

Thousands of kilometres away from Russia, on the other side of the world in South Africa, on the southern tip of the African continent, a different, and much more unpredictable and divisive, presidential leadership transition was unfolding at around the same time.

Following his succession to Nelson Mandela in 1999, as the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki inexplicably plucked Jacob Zuma from provincial obscurity, as Kwa-Zulu Natal MEC for Economics, and appointed him the country's Deputy President, in line with Zuma's leading position as the ANC's Deputy to Mbeki.

This fateful and voluntary decision by Thabo Mbeki planted the seeds for what - between 2005-2007 - became the ANC's most divisive, brutal, chaotic, unseemly, and organisationally disruptive leadership transition in the history of the ANC, and post-apartheid South Africa.

By June 2005 Mbeki took the fateful and unprecedented decision to fire Jacob Zuma from his Cabinet as his Deputy President, following the conviction of Zuma's former financial advisor on charges of corruption.

The die was cast for a massive and very public ANC succession battle, and factional power struggle, the biggest South Africans had ever witnessed post-1994.

What astonished political observers was that Mbeki and Zuma, leading ANC lights in their own right, had been close political soulmates since they met for the first time during their anti-apartheid exile years in the Kingdom of Swaziland in 1975, where Mbeki taught Zuma how to use a gun.

The two of them were elected into the ANC NEC in 1970s, and in the late 1980s led the banned ANC's first secret talks with the representatives of the Apartheid regime.

But the two would later fight a bitter fight for control of the ANC leadership.

In line with Russia's "tandem leadership" concept, in May 2008, Medvedev took over from Putin as the third President of Russia, whilst Putin became the Prime Minister of Russia.

Until then Medvedev had served as the First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation responsible for National Priority Projects.

A year earlier in December 2007, in the sleepy and parochial city of Polokwane, the capital of South Africa's dirt-poor Limpopo Province, Mbeki and Zuma had decided to take each other on in a bruising and brutal succession battle for the leadership of the ANC, which Zuma won by ousting Mbeki in a free and democratic, but fiercely contested, internal ANC party election.

In 2008, as Medvedev was consolidating his newly-acquired presidential power in the Kremlin, Moscow, which is Russia's centre of federal power, and as Putin was accustoming himself into a new and lesser role as Russia's new Prime Minister in Moscow's White House, in South Africa, the ruling party, at the urging of its new party president, Jacob Zuma, recalled Mbeki from office as the State President of the Republic in September 2008.

In the place of Mbeki, the ANC appointed its most reluctant and shy leader, Kgalema Motlanthe, Zuma's Deputy at the ruling ANC, as the care-taker president, until the following national elections in 2009. But the succession battles within the ANC did not end with the unceremonious, but constitutional, ousting of Mbeki from the national political scene.

On the other side of the world, Russia's infatuation with the politics of controlled and orderly "tandem leadership" transition crafted a new chapter, with Medevedev and Putin announcing to the conference of their ruling  United Russia party in October 2011, that in 2012 they will swap their State official positions, again.

The United Russia party endorsed the Putin-Medvedov tandem leadership transition arrangement.

For its part, and at almost the same time, the ANC seems determined to post another ugly and debilitating instalment in its brutish and unbecoming tale of leadership succession battles and factional fights.

The ANC was forced to lay disciplinary charges against leaders of its independent-minded but autonomous ANC Youth League. The start of the these disciplinary proceedings against the ANCYL leaders held at the ANC Luthuli House headquarters was accompanied by unprecedented scenes of rioting and mayhem caused by the ANCYL supporters battling the police in the CBD streets of Johannesburg. These ANC succession battles, and factional fights, will again culminate at the ANC's centenary elective conference in Mangaung in December this year.

The Sunday Times of 02 October 2011 in South Africa carried a headline article under the title "Zuma Challenged - Powerful ANC Regions Want Motlhanthe For President". It is clear that, bar the ANC official announcement, the season of open ANC succession battles, and factional fights, has, to all intents and purposes, begun in earnest.

But this time around, the succession battle evidently pits Zuma, who seeks a second term as the ANC and South Africa's President, against his ANC and the Republic's Deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe.

Still the ANC succession battle this time around remains as bitter, divisive and brutal as when it pitted Mbeki against Zuma, tearing as it did the ANC, the State, and the South African society down the middle between 2005-2007.

What is new is that for the first time ever in the 100 years history of the ANC, you have an ANC leader, in the person of Jacob Zuma, who, for the second time in less than five years, is leading his dominant and hegemonic party faction, into another nasty, ill-disciplined and undignified leadership transition battles and factional fights, in the year the ANC is celebrating its Centenary. Zuma battled Mbeki in 2007, and won the contest convincingly. He now seeks to battle Kgalema Motlhanthe supporters for the leadership of the ANC.

Will he triumph this time around, as he did in 2007?

There is a fact little remarked about in South Africa, namely, that between 2008 to 2009, the ANC successfully practised and implemented a muted and controlled version of the Russian "tandem leadership" transition concept, when Motlanthe took over from Mebki as the country's President, in 2008, in line with ANC party instructions, and in a peaceful, orderly, democratic and constitutional transfer of power from an elected President to an unelected Acting President.

So impressed was Jacob Zuma with this peaceful and orderly power transfer from Mbeki to Motlanthe (2008), and then from Motlanthe to himself in 2009, that he specifically praised the role that Motlanthe had played, in his Presidential Inaugural Address to the Nation and the World on May 9 2009 at the Union Buildings, South Africa's seat of national political power.

Why has Zuma then decided to contradict his own praise for orderly presidential leadership transition in his Inaugural Presidential Address, by committing to contest the leadership of the ANC in 2012, when he is aware of its destabilizing and disruptive effect on the ANC, the national State, and society in general?

Is Zuma driven merely by the crass sins of presidential power "incumbency", so typical in Africa, namely the vile and despicable lust for power by an African incumbent President, who clings to power by rook or crook, even if and when such a power lust is a security threat to the stability and sustainable cohesion of his own party and State?

The massive so-called "Snow Revolution" protests against alleged vote-rigging during the recent elections for the Russian Duma (Parliament), and now increasing opposition against the Putin-Medvedev "tandem leadership" arrangement for 2012 Russian State power transition, puts under severe strain, and questions, the very sustainability of this unique Russia tandem leadership succession.

Following these protests the Moscow News has carried scathing articles directed against the Russian tandem leadership arrangement.

Is Russia's Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, motivated by a crass and vile lust for Russian presidential power, and is so determined to cling to, and extend, his rule over Russia, even if such power-lust represents a direct threat to United Russia party's historic project of modernization of post-Soviet Russia?

Will Putin be able to win the March 2012 presidential election in Russia in conditions of transparency, openness and freedom and fairness?

For centuries Russia lived under absolutist Czarist, and then autocratic Soviet, rule, until the chaotic and disorderly Russian transition from Soviet communism to its formative and inchoate democratic dispensation from 1991-1999.

In South Africa, a similar fundamental political transition from centuries of colonial white settler and Apartheid white minority rule, to robust and multi-party democracy, starting with reforms launched by former Apartheid President FW de Klerk in 1989 which  culminated in Nelson Mandela's Presidency from May 1994.

In Russia this process of democratic transition resulted in the emergence of United Russia party, now led by Putin, as the most powerful and governing party.

In South Africa, the reform process initiated by FW de Klerk  finally led to the emergence of the ANC, currently led by Zuma, as the most powerful and governing political party in South Africa.

But the ANC and the United Russia party have reacted very differently to the internal party dilemmas, and challenges, of internal party power struggles, factional fights, leadership succession battles, and leadership transitions.

Given that Russia and South Africa are both global emerging powers, new post-Cold War democracies, regional hegemons respectively, successful emerging market economies, and very influential BRICS and G20 members, which form of internal ruling party leadership transition is more suited to the unique national conditions and developmental imperatives of each country, namely Russia and South Africa?

The ANC's now ritualized and fetishized open and brutal leadership succession battles, evidently every five years?

Or is it United Russia party's more paternalistic and avancular controlled and predictable "tandem leadership" transition?

Can the ANC and United Russia party learn from each other on this vexed and fraught matter of internal party, and State leadership, transition during their countries' historic, democratic, global and socio-economic transition?

Will 2012 prove to be a horrible year for both the ANC and the United Russia party? 

Or will they both survive intact and triumphant to celebrate the 2013 New Year?

Isaac Mpho Mogotsi is Executive Director of the Centre of Economic Diplomacy In Africa (CEDIA) He is also a businessman and former diplomat.

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