Motlanthe rides anti-Mbeki wave

Could African National Congress secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe be the next president of the ANC? There are signs that he could pull it off. Motlanthe is riding a massive wave of anti-Thabo Mbeki sentiment in the ANC. He is also in pole position to benefit from the confusion in the party, with a growing number of voices calling for him to be considered as a compromise candidate.

Motlanthe’s decision to present himself as above internal party politics could also pay off when the party elects leaders in Limpopo later this year.

Yet his lack of a defined constituency, coupled with his fence-sitting on ideological fights in the alliance, means that he has little chance of challenging Mbeki or Jacob Zuma head-on. But he would be miles ahead of any contender should Zuma and Mbeki deadlock, forcing them to seek a compromise candidate.

Mbeki is believed to have fallen out with Motlanthe over the handling of the ‘hoax emails” saga because Motlanthe believes in the authenticity of the emails while Mbeki doesn’t.

Any compromise candidate would need some support from the Zuma camp, including union federation Cosatu, the South African Communist Party and the ANC Youth League.

Political commentator William Gumede said he would have this support if ‘by December, Zuma is still a powerful figure, who can play a kingmaking role — What makes Motlanthe’s candidacy, as a compromise candidate, so strong is that he has the confidence of the Zuma camp ... and if push comes to shove, the Mbeki centrists won’t really mind.

‘If the outcome is two centres of power—an ANC president and a different president of the country—Motlanthe would be a shoo-in for the Mbeki camp, as he could be ANC president while another acceptable candidate, possibly a woman, could become the country’s president,” said Gumede.

Strong candidate

Motlanthe is regarded as the only obvious candidate who would have Zuma’s blessings in the event of a tie between him and Mbeki or if Zuma pulls out.

As a former union chief, Motlanthe has the trust and support of the left, while historically he has enjoyed the confidence of the centrists in Mbeki’s inner circle.

He is widely seen as a person of integrity, and as non-partisan, fair and honest.

Mbeki supporters appreciated the way he fostered a less hostile environment between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the mining industry in the late Nineties. Motlanthe was NUM general-secretary.

Under Motlanthe, NUM also took a centrist and pragmatic political line in Cosatu, especially during conflicts with the government and the ANC.


Motlanthe’s detractors, including a senior KwaZulu-Natal leader known to support Mbeki, criticise him as ‘inefficient, indecisive and lacking a backbone”.

‘He is not the best secretary. Things dealt with by the president, including instilling discipline in the organisation, are actually his responsibilities.

‘Most of the mud flung at Mbeki over the collapse of branches and the general malcontent in the organisation should be flying the secretary general’s way. It is widely known who was behind the revolts at the last national general council, and who was distributing T-shirts with the slogans ‘100% Zulu boy’ and ‘Zuma for president’ there. Luthuli House knows exactly who was behind the booing of Mbeki in KwaZulu-Natal,” he said.

Motlanthe has repeatedly lamented the collapse of branches, saying that it could cause an organisational crisis and Mbeki’s critics blame the president.

But Gumede said the management of branch structure is not strictly Mbeki’s responsibility: ‘Mbeki most probably cannot be expected to nurture and service the branches. According to the ANC constitution, part of the secretary general’s job is to ensure the organisation functions optimally.”

Motlanthe’s critics argue that former ANC secretary general Cyril Ramaphosa was pushed out of the post in the mid-nineties for failing to ensure that branches functioned properly.

‘So detractors of Motlanthe could level the same charges against him,” Gumede said. ‘And it is instructive that, when Mbeki travelled to the Eastern Cape province to explain to ANC members what his role as president of the country and the ANC entails, many grassroots members were very sympathetic.

Another national executive committee (NEC) member said Motlanthe would also be disadvantaged by ‘indications, of late, that he is seen as siding with the Zuma camp.

‘The ideal compromise candidate would be a neutral person who can pull all the factions together.”

Motlanthe has also been tarnished by his involvement in the Oilgate saga and some ANC leaders were reportedly embarrassed by his close association with Imvume’s Sandi Majali.

And the jury is out on his role in the ‘hoax” emails affair. His critics say he upset other ANC leaders by distributing copies of the emails at an NEC meeting, giving them undue credence.

Zuma factor

Zuma’s close strategists believe that Motlanthe was instrumental in ensuring that Zuma was thrown a lifeline after Mbeki fired him from his Cabinet. However, Motlanthe’s detractors believe he should have been more forthright in curbing Zuma and his followers’ formation of parallel structures punting Zuma as a presidential candidate.

Another senior member of the ANC KwaZulu-Natal executive committee said: ‘Never before has a comrade who has been given full support by the movement in trying times defied the same movement by running his own structures parallel to those of the ANC —So now we have what is termed ‘the office of Jacob Zuma’, a Friends of Jacob Zuma Trust and a [Friends of] Jacob Zuma website, which is a platform for faceless people to launch vitriolic attacks at the president and even insult him.”

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