Personal triumph for Asmal as he wins a seat on executive committee of ANC
The 50th national conference of the African National Congress ended at the weekend with a personal triumph for former Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement chairman, Mr Kader Asmal.
The Minister of Water Affairs, Mr Asmal polled the second-highest number of votes when conference delegates cast their ballots for 60 vacant places on the ANC's national executive committee.
Voting took place after the earlier election of the organisation's six top officials (president, deputy president, national chairman, treasurer-general secretary-general and deputy secretary-general), a process which saw Mr Nelson Mandela stand down as president and the choice of South Africa's Deputy President, Mr Thabo Mbeki, as his successor.
Ms Winnie Madikizela-Mandela secured enough votes to win 15th position and was a mere three places behind the highest ranked woman, the Health Minister, Ms Nkosazana Zuma.
Mr Asmal, widely recognised as one of the most competent of Mr Mandela's cabinet ministers, was one of five South Africans of Indian origin to finish in the first 10 positions. Two of the remaining five places went to a coloured (Finance Minister Mr Trevor Manuel) and a white (Land Affairs Minister Mr Derek Hanekom).
Only three indigenous blacks - or "black blacks" to quote a phrase coined by ANC businessman Mr Nthato Motlana - finished in the top 10. Politician-turned-mogul Mr Cyril Ramaphosa secured the highest number of votes and Environmental Affairs Minister Mr Pallo Jordan finished third.
These results pointed to a decisive setback for the Africanist lob by within the ANC, a loose grouping which seeks to advance the claims of indigenous Africans over those of the three minority communities (whites, coloureds and Indians).
At the ANC's previous national conference in 1994, Africanists were much in evidence, filling the first (Gen Bantu Holomisa), third (Mr Peter Mokaba) and fifth (Ms Winnie Madikizela-Mandela) positions. Gen Holomisa was expelled from the ANC in 1996, Mr Mokaba fell from third to 19th position and Ms Madikizela-Mandela dropped from fifth to 15th place. Ms Madikizela-Madela spoke about an Indian-dominated cabal during her testimony to a recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing into allegations against her of abuses of human rights In a discussion paper prepared ahead of the conference, Mr Mokaba asserted that members of the minority communities were represented out of proportion to their numbers in the upper echelons of the ANC but, judging from the election results, it lost rather than won him votes.
If the conference entrenched the position of representatives from the minority communities, particularly those of Indian origin, in the upper ranks of the ANC, it also achieved a better tribal balance within the indigenous black community. Often labelled a Xhosa organisation because of the their dominance in its leadership corps, several non-Xhosas were elected to important positions, the deputy president, the national chairman and the treasurer-general.
The conference represented a decline in the political fortunes of Ms Madikizela-Mandela: she withdrew as a candidate for the deputy presidency when it became apparent she would not obtain enough votes to qualify as a candidate and obtained significantly fewer votes than in the 1994 elections for the national executive. Provided she can avoids further adverse publicity, it could be premature to write her off completely.
The conference ended as it started, on a controversial note. In his valedictory speech as ANC president, Mr Mandela startled (and disappointed) many South Africans by talking loosely of "counter-revolutionaries" in the ranks of the civil service, non-government organisations and even the media. Their alleged conspiracies include orchestration of crime to destabilise the country.
In an interview with journalists at the end of the conference, Mr Mbeki made similar broadly couched accusations, citing, as Mr Mandela had, the theft of vehicles and computers from the headquarters of the National Intelligence Agency as "evidence " of a sinister conspiracy. "It is a very serious problem," he said.