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Zuma plays down tensions with Mbeki, rules out leftward policy jump    2007-12-20 10:30:43    

Polokwane/Johannesburg (dpa) - The newly-elected head of South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC), Jacob Zuma, on Thursday sought to quell fears of political tensions caused by the emergence of two centres of power in South Africa and ruled out a dramatic leftward shift in economic policy.
Polokwane/Johannesburg (dpa) - The newly-elected head of South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC), Jacob Zuma, on Thursday sought to quell fears of political tensions caused by the emergence of two centres of power in South Africa and ruled out a dramatic leftward shift in economic policy.

"There is likely to be anxiety regarding the existence of two presidents," Zuma, 65, said in his highly-anticipated first speech as party leader after coasting to victory Tuesday over the incumbent Thabo Mbeki in a tense vote at a party conference outside the northern town of Polokwane.

"There is no reason for uncertainty or fear in any quarter," he said, referring to Mbeki, who is set to remain president of the country until 2009 elections, as a "comrade, friend, brother" for over 30 years, and significantly, "my leader."

The bitterness of the Zuma-Mbeki duel, which saw Mbeki loyalists repeatedly booed at the ANC's policy and leadership conference since Sunday, had raised questions over whether the two will be willing or able to work together to implement party policy.

The Star newspaper reported Thursday that the Mbeki "camp" was expected to meet early in the New Year "to consider their options."

While he "never thought that the two of us would one day compete for the same position in the ANC," that did not make them enemies, Zuma emphasized on the last day of the conference.

On economic policy, Zuma - who has received strong backing from the party's left wing and leftist alliance partners, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party - sounded a reassuring note to wary investors.

Resolutions taken by around 4,000 ANC delegates at the gathering "do not indicate a fundamental shift in policies ANC has adopted since it came into power," he said.

"We have made it clear we need more foreign and domestic investment," he added.

Throughout his speech, the clear language of which contrasted with Mbeki's infamously technocratic addresses, Zuma emphasized the need for unity in the 95-year-old former liberation movement, which has been split down the middle over the leadership race.

"This was not an ANC conference of victors and losers. No-one has won. No-one has lost. The ANC has won," he said.

In what sounded at times like a programme for government Zuma vowed action from the party on key issues, including violent crime, HIV/AIDS, land reform and service delivery.

He also sought to restore discipline in the party after the rebelliousness displayed by delegates during the conference noting: "We took matters to the extreme in an attempt to demonstrate our feelings. That cannot be condoned."

As ANC leader Zuma is well placed to become the party's candidate for president in 2009 elections, when Mbeki's second term expires.

His victory has, however, been marred by the threat of fresh corruption charges in relation to a state arms deal.

A first corruption case against him was thrown out of court last year over delays.

Earlier Thursday, prosecutors investigating him upped their tone, confirming they had a case against him and that a decision on whether to prosecute him was "imminent."

If Zuma is charged and convicted, new ANC deputy leader Kgalema Motlanthe, 59, is tipped to become the next president.

Zuma's arrival at the podium dressed in a white shirt and black and green ANC jacket marked a spectacular political comeback for the controversial politician, who was sacked by Mbeki in 2005 as deputy president on suspicion of corruption.

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