Former president Thabo Mbeki. Picture: TYRONE ARTHUR
Former president Thabo Mbeki. Picture: TYRONE ARTHUR

In his OR Tambo lecture delivered at the University of the Witwatersrand in October 2017, former president Thabo Mbeki decried the two centres of power issue as "nonexistent". In this regard he was wrong in relation to both the 1996 Constitution and the present political and constitutional crisis that has engulfed SA.

While it was not entirely clear from his lecture precisely what specific context he was referring to, the "two centres of power" issue is in fact very real and politically highly problematic at present.

The political idea and application of the two centres of power in relation to national government arises from the untenable situation where the elected leader of the ANC, as the governing political party, is not the same person as the president of the country. This is the position at present, where Cyril Ramaphosa is the newly elected leader and president of the ANC and Jacob Zuma is state president.

This flows from the fact that the two sets of elections, one for the governing party at its five-yearly elective conference, are not aligned with our national elections, which also take place at five-yearly intervals.

This has happened before, when Zuma was elected president of the ANC in December 2007 and Mbeki was still the president of the country. This previous conflict between the two centres of powers was resolved when the ANC’s national executive committee decided in 2008 to recall Mbeki, who as a loyal cadre of the ANC immediately resigned.

In the present crisis, however, Zuma is resisting resignation after having been recalled, asserting that he has "done nothing wrong" and that allegations of corruption are mere "perception".

It is therefore clear whatever may be the ultimate resolution of this untenable and politically destabilising state of affairs, be it voluntary resignation, removal by Parliament using a motion of no confidence or impeachment by Parliament, the "two centres of power" issue is a real problem, not only for the ANC but for the country as a whole.

This is from a political and constitutional point of view as well as being highly prejudicial to the economy, the resuscitation of which is of vital importance if we are to resolve our endemic problems of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

When the metaphorical dust has settled the ANC must in its own interest, and that of the country, eliminate the two centres of power and amend its constitution to ensure the alignments of the two sets of elections so that this situation does not occur again.

Although this should not be a difficult problem for the ANC or the country to resolve, a far more intractable and inextricably related issue, which was pertinently referred to by Mbeki in his lecture, is the inordinate danger of political patronage and resulting corruption in government. In this regard he referred to Nelson Mandela’s political report at the ANC national conference in 1997, when he declared: "Many among our members see their membership of the ANC as a means to advance their personal ambitions to attain power and access to resources for their individual gratification."

This is the most biggest problem facing the ANC and the country as a whole; the fundamental cause of the present constitutional and political debacle facing the country. Unfortunately, the Zuma presidency and administration has become synonymous with corruption and consequent maladministration. This problem must be resolved by the incoming Ramaphosa presidency and administration, as well as opposition parties and their leaders. It will require a Herculean joint effort from all role-players.

The challenge facing the nation is how to purge our country of corruption and political patronage and return to the values of integrity and good governance that marked the Mandela era, in this year of the centenary of his birth.

• Devenish, one of the scholars who assisted in drafting the interim constitution in 1993, is emeritus professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Please sign in or register to comment.