South Africa: Sexwale Presidency?

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Prominent South African businessman and ANC cadre Tokyo Sexwale has thrown his hat into the ring in a bid to become the next president ahead of the crucial ruling party Indaba at the end of the year.

The powerful Sexwale says he would "consider" nomination for the African National Congress presidency at the party's December conference should he be asked to stand. Earlier this year, the business tycoon denied media reports that he had launched a bid to become the next president of the ruling ANC, taking over from President Thabo Mbeki whose term expires in 2009.

Sexwale dismissed the reports at that time as "kite-flying, nothing more than a red herring and we treat them with disdain". His views seem to have undergone transformation since then. In an interview on the BBC's Hard Talk program, Sexwale said he would be willing to accept any "instruction" from the ANC.  He noted that he would not accept the politics of ethnicity, regionalism, or racism. “I should understand what the nomination is about," said Sexwale.  "I need to know that the nomination is about building a good South Africa, that we go forward with what we have started—I will apply my mind and my answer will be very clear". 

Sexwale, 53, quit his post as Gauteng premier in 1998 to start his Mvelaphanda business group. On the BBC, he said he had been deployed there to provide leadership in the business world and that he would return to the ANC if he was told to "come back". 

Speculation is rife in the South Africa media that Sexwale is campaigning behind the scenes as a compromise candidate for the number one job at the helm of the ANC. He was also reportedly seeking the blessings of former South African President Nelson Mandela to lead the ANC and eventually takeover from Mbeki as president.

Political observers say he has been holding high level discussions with supporters of both Mbeki and ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma. The ANC succession battle is heating up ahead of the December party conference. Zuma survived a rape charges trial last year.

Mbeki cannot run for a third term as president under the South African constitution but can run again for the party leadership position. His supporters want him to retain the party leadership position so that he can influence the course the ANC has to take to handle the delicate succession issue threatening to tear Africa's oldest national party apart.

However, the majority of ANC supporters -from the communist, labor and youth wing are opposed to Sexwale's takeover bid. "How can someone who has gone to bed with capitalism and imperialism represent the interest of the workers and the majority of the poor here in South Africa?” asked a Confederation of South Africa Trade Unions (Cosatu) official. "He should stay out of the race and build his business empire. This is a conspiracy to deny Zuma the presidency."

Sexwale and Zuma were jailed on the notorious Robben Island along with Mandela and other ANC stalwarts like Walter Sisulu, for conspiring to overthrow the white apartheid regime. After quitting active politics, Sexwale became a successful businessman heading the Mvelaphanda Group which has a market capitalization of over $600 million. The group has interests in banking, mining, healthcare, property and services.

"South Africans have to work for South Africa. Black business people will have to become economic freedom fighters in the true sense of the word. There needs to be greater opportunities for all, particularly in rural areas. Marx says if capital does not grow, it stagnates. We must see opportunities - and not only crises or global meltdowns," Sexwale once said.

Many see him as having the right leadership qualities. They say he is deeply committed to pursuing the dream of economic prosperity of the country's Black majority.
""The liberation struggle of our people was not about liberating blacks from bondage, it was about liberating white people from fear," he said.

Tsiko is The Black Star News’s Southern Africa correspondent based in Harare.


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