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Winnie Mandela proposes ANC deal

13 December 07 09:30 GMT

The ex-wife of ex-South African President Nelson Mandela has suggested a compromise to ease divisions in the leadership of the ruling party.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela said current national president and African National Congress (ANC) leader Thabo Mbeki should head the party until elections.

His ANC deputy, ex-Deputy President Jacob Zuma, should become presidential candidate in 2009, she said.

Mr Mbeki and Mr Zuma have fought a bitter campaign for the ANC leadership.

Correspondents say the move is seen as a face-saver for Mr Mbeki, who is currently trailing Mr Zuma in polls.

'Too late'

In a letter to ANC secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe, Madikizela-Mandela said she believed there had been "a near-total breakdown in the historical discipline and focus of the movement", ahead of the 16 - 20 December party conference in Polokwane.

"There has been an unprecedented level of self-indulgence in out-of-turn public utterances, attack and counter-attack and the apparent normalisation of un-comradely behaviour and rhetoric at levels and intensity not before seen in the long history of our movement," she said.

However, South African political analyst William Gumede says while Mrs Madikizela-Mandela is an important power broker, the proposal is unsustainable.

"I think it's come too late," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

"Mr Mbeki's group don't want to see Mr Zuma in the presidency, and the other way round; Mrs Madikizela-Mandela's offer is the status quo so it is not a long-term solution."

The two men publicly fell out in 2005 when Mr Zuma was sacked as deputy president over corruption allegations.

He could potentially still face charges in connection with a multi-million dollar arms deal. If there were a compromise, Mr Zuma would have to be offered some kind of immunity from prosecution and financial settlement in the medium term, Mr Gumede says.

"The president could offer Mr Zuma immunity - it's within the president's right. The problem for Mr Zuma is that Mr Mbeki is president and it is unlikely to happen."

Divisive

Mr Mbeki has already served two terms and cannot lead the country again, but correspondents say if he remains ANC leader he will be in a good position to decide who succeeds him as national leader.

If Mr Zuma wins, he will be favourite to become president in 2009.

He already has the support of five provinces as well as the ANC Women's League and Youth League.

Mr Zuma is backed by those who want the government to do more to alleviate poverty and criticise Mr Mbeki for being too pro-business.

Mr Mbeki has the support of four provincial branches.

The race for leader has widely been considered one of the most divisive in the 95-year history of the ANC.

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