editorialBy Clement Moyo
While it is a cliché that politicians are like diapers and must be changed at the right time, in the case of South Africa, the tenets of democracy have guaranteed the cleanliness of the diapers and all has been well to date because those who have returned to office have done so in peace and election results have not been sat upon, challenged or delayed in release.
President Jacob Zuma's re-election to ANC Presidency in the face of a stiff challenge for the seat by his right hand man Deputy-President Kgalema Motlanthe last week deserves recognition and an accolade.
Not only did Motlanthe challenge Zuma for the top post in ANC, a position that by default makes one the President of South Africa; he also graciously accepted defeat as he continues to serve as Deputy-President of South Africa until 2014 if he so wishes.
As a political party, ANC has managed to show other liberation movements and labour movements in the region that leadership renewal is not a taboo but a natural and necessary process.
Prophets of doom had predicted chaos at ANC's 53rd national elective conference as Montlanthe decided to stand against Zuma for the top post. Why? It's unusual and effectively uncomfortable for an incumbent head of a political party to be challenged even within the so-called "democratic movements".
There are lessons that Zimbabwe's political parties can learn from ANC leadership renewal.
While the recent election did not lead to a change at the top leadership post of ANC, the fact that Motlanthe contested against the incumbent for control of ANC is significant and a good precedent for democracy at party level and national politics.
Also, one major aspect worth noting is that Zuma's victory does not give him the right to act as he pleases. Zuma can be recalled, just as Thabo Mbeki was recalled from the top post as South Africa's president according to the party constitution. Such is the power of a people-led political organisation, a side of the political coin that is still foreign to Zimbabwe's political parties.
In Zanu PF, any attempt to challenge Mugabe for party presidency would definitely lead to bloodshed and purging on an unprecedented scale. Such change or leadership contests have also been resisted by parties that regard themselves as stalwarts for democracy like MDC.
It is common knowledge now that the unexpected MDC split in 2005 was due to internal disgruntlement and conflict of interests from within the party. It is also an open secret that those with ambitions to challenge Tsvangirai for MDC-T leadership fear the consequences of retribution, blackmail or possible victimisation.
One can easily be blacklisted as a dissident and be flushed out of the party structures without consequences. Such scenes nearly manifested themselves at the last MDC-T congress in Bulawayo which was marred by violence, a generic trademark of Zimbabwe's political parties.
Also, the 2009 secret amendment of MDC-T party's constitution to extend the term of the post of president from two consecutive terms to being "tailor-made" to Morgan Tsvangirai's pleasure could have left a number disappointed.
It is the "godfather" traits that engulf political party leaders, making them larger than life characters that turn parties into cults. Such traits also manifested themselves in Arthur Mutambara as he resisted a democratic ouster by Welshman Ncube, an event that led to another split as he selfishly believed himself to be larger than the party he represented.
But the golden question remains: Are Zimbabwe's political parties learning anything from across Limpopo? If so, what do they have to show for it?