Pretoria - Former president Thabo Mbeki’s decision not to attend President Jacob Zuma’s lecture in his honour on Friday was a snub and vote of no confidence in the ANC leader.
The lecture, scheduled to be held at Aliwal North in the Eastern Cape, forms part of a series of ANC centenary lectures on the lives of its past presidents.
According to two political analysts - Prince Mashele and Professor Somadoda Fikeni - the move showed that the two leaders had unresolved issues and that Mbeki did not approve of Zuma’s leadership of the ruling party and the country.
It was also an indication that the two rivals had not embarked on a healing process and reconciliation following their bitter fallout in 2005, when Mbeki unceremoniously fired Zuma as the country’s deputy president.
Mbeki spokesman Mukoni Ratshitanga and ANC spokesman Keith Khoza denied that Zuma had been snubbed.
Ratshitanga said on Thursday that he would not be at the lecture because of prior commitments.
He said other members of the family would attend instead.
It is understood Mbeki is busy with diplomatic matters related to the two Sudans.
Mashele said Mbeki’s decision was a sign that there was still a rift between him and Zuma, who toppled him as ANC leader at the party’s 2007 national conference in Polokwane.
“Zuma was riding on a band-wagon that was anti-Mbeki. Now it is clear that the two don’t like each other. Mbeki does not approve of the leadership of Zuma. If he didn’t think like that, I am certain he would go to honour Zuma. I do not think he would want to be seen publicly honouring Zuma,” he added.
Mashele said the snub should be seen in the context of Mbeki’s scathing criticism of Zuma during his OR Tambo Memorial Lecture at the University of Fort Hare last month. Mbeki had expressed concern about a “dangerous and unacceptable situation of directionless and unguided national drift”.
Fikeni said that “in the absence of a tangible explanation as to why this (Mbeki’s non-attendance) is happening, it will be read directly as a snub”.
Ratshitanga maintained that Mbeki was not snubbing Zuma.
“[His reason not to attend] can’t get anymore authentic than that. Why would he turn down an invite?”
He said the invitation was not addressed to Mbeki directly, but to the Thabo Mbeki Foundation. An invitation was extended to the Mbeki family.
Khoza said the Mbeki family would be represented by four members, adding that the former president’s absence was not a snub.
“It’s not a snub at all. What is important here is that we didn’t invite him - we invited him as a family. But I haven’t seen the names of people that are coming,” said Khoza.
Fikeni said, if anything, the snub exposed deep-seated, unresolved issues between the two politicians.
This included Mbeki’s sacking of Zuma as deputy president, as well Mbeki’s own humiliation when Zuma dislodged him from power in Polokwane and subsequently removed him from the country’s presidency in 2008.
“So, it might just be the awkwardness of a ceremony that has to be dealt with but the chemistry not being there.
“Also, a very awkward moment of how do you deal with a person you ousted and how do you deal with a person who ousted you? How do you deal with a person you believe was responsible for your trials and tribulations, and how do you deal with a comradely mutual feeling of betrayal?” asked Fikeni.
The pair should have anticipated this and worked towards a solution during the year, he said.
Fikeni said that the timing of the lecture had compounded the problem, because Mbeki and Zuma had been used as the rallying points by those who wanted leadership change in Mangaung and those who wanted continuity.