Politics in general is a very intriguing venture. African politics is even much more fascinating. The world over, experts are still trying to get to grips with the mystery of African politician’s mind. History, local or otherwise, is awash with examples of political miscalculations which left many licking their wounds with political careers fallen by the wayside. With Mangaung around the corner, the political grand stage has been set with the opening of the nomination process. The drama can only get more exciting. Analysts are already having a field day. All sorts of theories are being thrown into the fray. The winners takes all that has characterized ANC elections of late only gives headaches to those right in the thick of things.
Of key interest to the ANC and South Africa will be the question of whether there is a presidential contestation at Mangaung 2012. President Jacob Zuma has given clear signal that he wants a second term. For Deputy President Motlanthe, the question of whether to run or not to run seems to have thrown the veteran politician into a serious dilemma. External pressure for him to declare his ticket has been overwhelming. But, then for him, it is more of accelerating his ascendancy into power. Is it now or later for him? Although it is widely believed that Deputy President Motlanthe wants to throw down the gauntlet he has flatly refused to agree or deny that he is eyeing the higher office come December 2012. Vigorous campaigns for him have been heard from Julius Malema and the ANC Youth League.
Interestingly, influencing the outcome of Mangaung has become the preoccupation of some even in the opposition. We have heard utterances by former President FW De Klerk, Lindiwe Mazibuko and many others who surprisingly want the ANC strengthened by what they term a stronger candidate. One would have thought these would have preferred Zuma whom they call a weaker leader. Am I missing something here?
Motlanthe, being the veteran politician that he is, is aware of the dangers of even a small slip which may see him slide head first into political oblivion. He has already raised his profile by disclosing in his biography that he had saved Zuma’s political life. He has also disclosed that some within ANC wanted him to retain the Presidency in 2008 when he became the Acting President following President Mbeki’s unceremonious departure. That has, undoubtedly raised his profile as he, by so doing, showed South Africa that he is not one too greedy for power to the extent of trying to accelerate his ascendancy into power. This, he will most definitely try to preserve as a true leader is never in a hurry.
Postponing his rise to power to a later date will surely promote the unity that is desperately needed within the movement. He can be credited as a discipline cadre who puts the interest of the party more than his personal ambitions.
What he has termed “playing by the book” is actually a pseudo term for “playing it safe”. He knows that the people will remain people. They can push you into risky ventures for their own political advantage. One politician in some country in Africa once said, “ people can push you to engage into a venture by saying they are right behind you, but too often, in the thick of things, you turn behind you to find out there they are nowhere behind you”. Ummh, African politics? Intriguing!
History, if it is anything to go by, has it that Motlanthe, as Zuma’s deputy is next in line. Thabo Mbeki took the button from Nelson Mandela. Jacob Zuma took over from Mbeki. By inference, Motlanthe should be next. His chance after Zuma is almost guaranteed. This would be a safer bet for any risk averse politician. This is a 50:50 gamble race and economics has it that a risk shy individual will not play a game with 50% chance of making it big and 50% to losing it big time.
Motlanthe could easily fall into the hands of the media and other commentators who stand to benefit, through the juicy stories, should there be a contest. But the price tag may prove too dear for the highly intellectual politician because all he will have pursued at this great risk will be an acceleration of his ascendance into power which is almost already his later. It is not a subject of debate that the party is divided. I do not however agree with those who say it was President Zuma who got the party into this state. To the contrary I think the culture of jostling for positions is responsible. No one can truly deliver in the environment comrade Zuma unenviably found himself in within the movement. Looking at it, one can see that the second term, in the case where there is a limit of two terms in office, is where the incumbent can deliver without the fear of losing a second term.
In African politics, it is never prudent for a deputy to challenge the re-election of the incumbent especially in a party democracy that limits to only two terms. This would be expected in very exceptional cases where the incumbent has grossly failed the party. Entering a contestation with your boss may, on the surface, appear good for democracy but it often leads to unnecessary jostling and even sabotage in some cases as we have seen in the case of Jacob Zuma. A shrewd politician like Motlanthe should not fall prey to pressure from the media and the opposition which are bent on weakening the ANC through entrenching a culture of division within the party with the hope of catapulting themselves into power. Most of the criticisms of Jacob Zuma we have seen within the media of late have not been fair. There is now a declared intention by the media to push Zuma out in Mangaung.
I may not be a veteran of ANC intra-party politics but, for Motlanthe, many have already come out lobbying for him. Given the current slate voting culture, these may have put their political careers on the line. Let’s hope these will not be like Vice President Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka and those other senior ANC cadres who jumped into COPE bandwagon when it was widely believed that former President Mbeki was following right after them. The problem always befalls those who put their necks on the block too quickly. Hard lessons indeed!
Motlanthe being a shrewd politician will not just jump. Testing the waters and feeling the direction of the wind first seems to be what his wisdom is dictating. If it turns out, to be a 50:50 gamble, as I suggest above, I can’t see him jumping into the waters. After all he doesn’t have anything to lose. He will do better when the spirit of Polokwane is dealt a blow and unity reinforced through Zuma’s re-election at Mangaung 2012. He knows that way also he will have few headaches, stomach aches and heart aches from vultures within the movement when finally elected.