Balancing act

2008-09-27 00:00

By both his demeanour and his first actions as head of state, Kgalema Motlanthe has won immediate respect. After all the shenanigans and populist rantings of recent times, there is reassurance that the nation’s political life may again be conducted with due dignity and decorum. There is hope, too, that decision making may now be guided by principled good sense rather than personal affiliation or self-seeking ambition.

Motlanthe’s handling of Manto Tshabalala-Msimang in his reshuffled cabinet is an encouraging example. Thabo Mbeki’s stubborn retention of this controversial and compromised minister in the crucial health portfolio while health services crumbled and the HIV/Aids pandemic raged could only be ascribed to some aberrant quirk of personal loyalty. In a move that will bring huge relief, Motlanthe has shifted her to be Minister in the Presidency, letting her save face but minimising her capacity to do further harm. In her place comes Barbara Hogan with impeccable struggle credentials and a reputation for pragmatism and hard work.

So far, so good. Motlanthe has shown both an ability to deal with the stormy internal dynamics of the ruling party and a sensible awareness of the need for this country to present a stable face to the outside world. Yet it is still very early days and Motlanthe’s term as president has a predetermined limit. The rifts in the ruling alliance are deeper than ever, and with Mbeki’s followers toying with a split, the undercurrents run strong. Much depends on Motlanthe’s ability to keep his footing and his balance.

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