22 December 2007


“Cohabitation” is a French word that means “living together”. In politics, it refers to a situation where the French President, who is individually elected, comes from one party (the Gaullists, say); while the Prime Minister, who is head of government, leads another party (such as the Socialists, for example).

In other words they are divorced, but still living in the same house.

The present situation in South Africa is cohabitation with a difference.

President Thabo Mbeki continues to be the head of government, not for any positive reason but only because of inertia. Nobody wants to risk trying to remove him. He no longer holds any positions in the party (the ANC) which deployed him to be the president of the country, except that of ordinary member.

Mbeki is not an elected member of the ANC National Executive Committee. Nor is he an ex-officio member of that body. The President of France campaigns with the support of a party, but is elected individually. In South Africa this is not the case. Here, the parties are given seats according to proportional representation. The Parliamentary majority then appoints the President. The ANC currently holds more than two thirds of the seats in the South African Parliament.

Thabo Mbeki’s party has repudiated him. For as long as he remains, by default, the president of the country, he is a President divorced from party; and this is the difference between our situation and that of a cohabitation in France. Thabo Mbeki stands alone, “representing his jacket” as our own political slang describes such a situation, but still making appointments and ordering people about.

Apart from defending him from unjust persecution, the campaign around Jacob Zuma has been based on one uniting principle, which is that the government must listen to the people who put it there. That means specifically the ANC and its Alliance Partners, namely COSATU and the SACP.

At this moment, the pro-Zuma campaign has not succeeded in gaining one centimetre of ground in this regard. It has actually slipped backwards. Instead of having more control over government following Polokewane, the ANC has in effect cut Thabo Mbeki and the rest of the government free of the ANC.

That this is so is proved by the defiant press conference that Thabo Mbeki held on 21 December 2007, the day after the close of the 52nd National Conference that deposed him from the Presidency of the ANC. In this press conference Mbeki continued to pronounce on matters that are the prerogative of the head of the ANC. The first of these concerns the duration of his remaining term of office, and that of the Provincial Premiers. Both of these are ANC prerogatives, and not Mbeki's any more. Other such pronouncements included double-talk on the relocation of the Scorpions, and on the charging of Jacob Zuma, which continues to be trailed in front of the media after seven years, without actually taking place.

Another proof of Mbeki’s defiance is his confirmation of the SABC board that was procured by his own office, as we know (see the two linked items, below). Another proof of his defiance is
his contribution to the last “ANC Today” where he blames everybody but himself for his downfall.

We remember that following the 2005 ANC National General Council, Mbeki defied the NGC in a TV interview immediately afterwards by starting his campaign for a third term as ANC President. After the ANC National Policy Conference in June 2007, Mbeki once again refused to accept the clearly-expressed view of that body that there should not be “two centres of power”. He insisted on maintaining his candidacy for the ANC Presidency to the bitter end, denialist that he is.

This Communist University, student as it is of all things political, has warned of trouble in the event of a cohabitation such as the one we now have. As usual, those who want power are going to have to seize it, or lose their opportunity. If the government is to be made to respond to the ANC and to the Alliance, then these subjects will have to assert themselves.

Tomorrow evening at 20h00, President Mbeki (who announced on Friday that he was leaving for a holiday) is going to address the country on television (SABC2). He could resign at that point, or he could continue to thumb his nose at democracy. We shall see. He is not doing it just to pass the time.

Click on these links:

COSATU condemns approval of new SABC Board (355 words)

YCL statement on 'Mbeki Appoints SABC Board' (245 words)


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