DECEMBER 20 2007 08:18h
Calling Mbeki a comrade, friend and brother, Zuma said: `Contesting positions does not make us enemies.`
Prosecutors said they were ready to charge Jacob Zuma with graft on Thursday, even as he took over leadership of South Africa's divided ruling party with a vow to restore unity and encourage investors.
Zuma ousted President Thabo Mbeki at the head of the party on Tuesday after their intense rivalry caused the worst rifts in the history of the ANC, which has ruled South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994.
He is expected to succeed Mbeki as president in 2009 but a graft conviction would force him to step down. The country's top prosecutor told local Talk Radio 702 on Thursday a decision was imminent over whether to charge Zuma over an arms-buying scandal.
"The investigation, with the evidence we have now, points to a case that can be taken to court," said Mokotedi Mphse, acting director of the National Prosecuting Authority.
A prosecution of Zuma over the scandal collapsed in 2005, and Zuma's allies say the renewed investigation is a plot by Mbeki to sabotage his rival.
Zuma refused to comment at a press conference on the prosecutor's statement but said he did not understand why the allegations were being aired in the media instead of a court. In a closing speech to the ANC conference that elected him, Zuma told investors, nervous over his leftwing backing, that they should not fear his leadership. "There is no reason for uncertainty or fear in any quarter," Zuma said, after his election swept away the party's old guard and introduced a new flamboyant style at the top of the ANC.
Zuma vowed continuity in policies that have stoked the longest period of growth in the country's history and said there would be no change in South Africa's quiet diplomacy to resolve Zimbabwe's crisis, which has been criticised by Western powers.
But there was no doubting the sea change in the ANC. In sharp contrast to Mbeki's aloof style, Zuma sang his signature anti-apartheid song, "Bring me my machine gun" as the conference ended, and frequently threw back his head and roared with laughter during the press conference later.
Zuma said in a largely conciliatory speech there would be no fundamental shift in the party's policies.
Calling Mbeki a comrade, friend and brother, Zuma said: "Contesting positions does not make us enemies."
Responding to concern that the split between head of state and ANC leader would paralyse decision-making in Africa's biggest economy, Zuma said he would work for a smooth relationship between party and government.
"We need to heal the ANC. We must also work with government and other sectors to build a caring society," Zuma said.
The new leader also tried to defuse nervousness among investors that he would tilt South Africa to the left because of his backing from trade unions and the Communist Party.
"There is ... no reason why the domestic and international business community, or any other sector, should be uneasy. ... We have made it clear we need more foreign and domestic investment," he said.
Zuma vowed to sharpen policy against poverty and crime in South Africa which has one of the worst rates in the world.
He called organised crime a threat to democracy and "a counter-revolutionary force which needs to be eliminated", and suggested the revival of street committees that fought white rule.
"If we were able to defeat vigilantism and the apartheid system, what can stop us from defeating this ugly factor that has tainted our democracy," he said.
Mbeki, disliked by the rank and file for his haughty intellectual manner, barely smiled as he sat and watched Zuma dancing and singing. The new leader's charisma and common touch were one of the factors that won him an overwhelming victory.