Mandela Drops Bid for ANC's No. 2 PostBy Lynne Duke
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 18 1997; Page A35
With a surprisingly paltry show of hands in support of her nomination, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela withdrew from the race for deputy president of South Africa's ruling party today, paving the way for a smooth transition from the era of Nelson Mandela to that of Thabo Mbeki.
Before the votes seconding her nomination from the floor could be counted, Madikizela-Mandela announced her withdrawal as a candidate for the African National Congress's number-two position in a race that would have pitted her against the party establishment led by her former husband.
"To those comrades who nominated my name, I apologize for having to decline," she said to the delegates assembled here at the University of the Northwest, about 180 miles northwest of Johannesburg, for the ANC's 50th national conference. Cheers rose from the floor of the university's Great Hall in what delegates later said was their show of appreciation that the party had avoided a divisive showdown over its most controversial figure.
Once known as the "mother of the nation" because of her fierce defiance of white-minority rule, Madikizela-Mandela was accused before South Africa's truth commission two weeks ago of involvement in killings and beatings during the apartheid era, and she has been sidelined within the ANC for political indiscipline.
With Mandela, 79, stepping down from the party presidency and Mbeki, his deputy, rising to replace him, Madikizela-Mandela's withdrawal allowed the smooth ascent of Jacob Zuma from the party chairmanship to its deputy presidency. These uncontested nominations mark a long-anticipated moment in the 85-year-old ANC's transition from liberation movement to ruling party following the nation's first all-races election in 1994, which ended centuries of domination here by the white minority.
Mandela's stepping down from party leadership also marks the first phase of his withdrawal from official life, which began when he was elected party president in 1991, a year after his release from 27 years of political imprisonment. The ANC's electoral victory in 1994 lifted him to the nation's presidency, but in 1999, when the next election is to be held, he will not be a candidate. Mbeki, 55, will likely become South Africa's next president. A longtime party official and economist, Mbeki already is running most affairs of state.
Speaking of today's party transition, Mbeki said, "What'll happen is a continuation of what we've been doing for very many years," noting that the ANC is in the hands of "a very strong, very capable collective of leaders." The party, which holds a parliamentary majority, will improve delivery of its promises of housing and jobs for the still-deprived black majority and continue the overall transformation of a society still defined by white socioeconomic dominance, Mbeki said.
In his valedictory speech to the party on Tuesday, Mandela lobbed uncharacteristically harsh criticism at white politicians and the white media, accusing them of opposing his government's reform agenda and trying to protect racial privileges of the past. The tenor of his speech was more akin to the philosophy of his former wife, who represents a wing of the party more committed to betterment of blacks than to reconciliation with whites.
Although Mandela's speech seemed to signal a departure from the politics of reconciliation that have been a hallmark of his administration, Mbeki said today that it was a realistic assessment of the past three years and was "not intended to result in a program of actions."
The nation's whites, who account for only 12 percent of the population but still control the economy, will continue to be the target of an effort "to get people to understand that the creation of a non-racial society is not only in the interest of black people but also of white people," Mbeki said.
Mbeki assumes the helm of the ANC as the party that was a big-tent liberation movement under apartheid is struggling to become an effective ruling power and a political machine. As Mandela pointed out in his speech, the party suffers from creeping careerism and opportunism within its ranks, as well as corruption and indiscipline. It also is riven with philosophical fissures, with its labor and socialist wing increasingly at odds with party free-marketeers over the conservative economic policies the party is pursuing in government.
The election of Kgalema Motlanthe as party secretary general helps bridge some of those gaps. Motlanthe, a longtime ANC organizer, has been secretary general of one of the nation's largest labor groups, the National Union of Mineworkers. And to help the ANC manage itself better, Motlanthe's position and two others below him are full-time posts and not to be shared with other political duties, as has been the practice in the past three years.
Despite its internal problems, the ANC's handling of its leadership contests displayed what has been its strongest feature for several years: It strives for consensus -- though sometimes at the expense of timely action. The slate of candidates was a consensus slate for which support was painstakingly earned in months of nationwide politicking. Just two positions were contested -- the chairmanship and the deputy secretary general -- and the results of secret balloting will be announced Thursday.
The depth of the party rank and file's belief in unity was clear in the reaction of several delegates to Madikizela-Mandela's dramatic withdrawal. No official count of seconding votes was released, as counting was suspended when she withdrew. But the show of hands appeared to be far short of the 25 percent of delegates needed for nomination.
Although many delegates revere Madikizela-Mandela for her role in the struggle against apartheid, they apparently revere party solidarity more.
"All of us, we are in favor of her, we do love her," said Siphiwe Nqayi, a delegate from the Eastern Cape region, which had seemed at one stage a few weeks ago to be leaning toward support of Madikizela-Mandela.
"But she cannot act as an individual," said Eret Thomas, another delegate.
"We act collectively," Nqayi said.
In stepping aside, Thomas said, "she was a good comrade."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company