Mangaung and Motlanthe’s future

2013-01-20 10:00

There’s no question that the issue of whether ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe would challenge president Jacob Zuma for the party presidency in Mangaung last month was more prevalent than any other in the South African media last year.

Today, many ask me what will happen to Motlanthe after his loss in Mangaung.

He could easily have opted not to challenge Zuma – especially as there were many supporters of Zuma for a second term who attempted either to persuade or even intimidate him not to – in return for retaining the deputy presidency and thereafter virtually securing the presidency of the ANC in 2017.

One gets a sense that because Zuma, his administration and the ANC itself were dogged by serious problems, his more fervent supporters wondered if he could lose against Motlanthe.

But for Motlanthe, such undemocratic, improper and unconstitutional arrangements among leaders were the worst manifestation of slates and the inevitable outcome of destructive, divisive and debilitating factionalist politics.

Not even the prospect of returning to the most powerful office in the nation could tempt him to sacrifice this cardinal democratic principle: the constitutional and organisational right of branch members to decide on their own and without pressure, interference, manipulation and force who they preferred to be ANC leader.

He refused to compromise on this matter. This stance had nothing to do with projecting a spotlessly clean or puritanical image, but instead with defending arguably the most important principle of democratic political organisation.

Despite incessant media and political pressure to prematurely “put up his hand”, he refused to do so.

He decided to accept the ANC presidency nomination because that was the wish of a significant section of the membership.

To have declined would have been an unbecoming rejection of the democratic will of those members, even if it appeared before Mangaung that he was very unlikely to win.

That is why the issue for him was never about winning or losing. If it were, he would not even have contested Zuma because he knew that it was unlikely he would defeat him.

But it is probably true that he was disturbed by what happened in many branches, especially because it seems some ANC leaders were aware of what went wrong before and especially during the nominations: the violence, fraudulent manipulation of membership figures and the numbers of voting delegates, intimidation, and how in some instances money was used to bribe members and delegates.

It is these serious problems and the implications it will have for the ANC and the nation that concern him much more than the fact that he lost to Zuma.

In fact, he never had a sleepless night about his fate at Mangaung or his future thereafter.

But where to for Motlanthe?

After the presidential election results were announced, the media speculated that he would soon resign from his government post as deputy president.

It also speculated that his decision to withdraw his earlier acceptance of the ANC deputy presidency nomination and for a seat on the national executive committee meant that he was not prepared to work at all with the newly elected leadership.

But that was not true.

His acceptance of the post of heading the ANC’s political school obviously implies that he was ready to work with the new leadership, and unlike some other ANC leaders who were defeated and left the conference, Motlanthe remained right to the end.

He furthermore graciously welcomed those who were elected and wished them well.

But as Zuma and ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe have already indicated, Motlanthe will remain deputy president of South Africa for the rest of his term.

» Harvey is Motlanthe’s biographer

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