The road to Manguang, where the African National Congress (ANC) will choose its next president in 2012, will not be as easy to navigate as the one leading to Polokwane when the comrades were heading to elect Jacob Zuma party leader.
There were just two roads to Polokwane: Mbeki Avenue or Zuma Boulevard. Hitch a ride on either and there was only one way to get it wrong
In 2012 there will be many more possible routes to follow. This week, the scenario planning of human settlements minister and former presidential hopeful Tokyo Sexwale was described to the Mail & Guardian as “spread betting”.
Like a contestant in the television series Survivor, ANC insiders say Sexwale is looking at three possible scenarios of how the battle to become president in Mangaung will play itself out and the best way to strengthen his prospects.
In none of them is he a contender for the top job, but he could be setting himself up to challenge for the presidency in 2017, when he will be 64. (Zuma is currently 68).
Sexwale has learnt from his abortive presidential bid in Polokwane that it is almost impossible for a leader who is not in the ANC’s top six to aim for the top spot. Sources say his strategy now is to bid for deputy presidency or campaign for one of his younger allies to deputise.
In the first scenario Sexwale is said to be considering, Zuma would remain ANC president while Sexwale came in as his deputy. The calculation here is that Zuma is too distrustful of his current deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, to give him a second bite at that cherry.
The trade-off would be Zuma’s access to Sexwale’s personal wealth for campaign purposes as the splintering of the former’s support base has left holes in his campaign purse.
The relationship between Zuma and Sexwale is not completely stable, insiders say. The president is said to have blamed Sexwale for the revelations about his love child with Sonono Khoza in January 2010. The relationship between the two men deteriorated significantly and Sexwale felt compelled, in January 2011, to pledge his support for Zuma’s second term in a newspaper interview.
Insiders say Sexwale will step into the position of deputy president only if the relationship with Zuma mirrors that between Nelson Mandela, as a figurehead, and his activist deputy during his presidency, Thabo Mbeki.
“If you can have Zuma tamed and happy to be a more ceremonial figure, then Tokyo would be take a more prime ministerial role that would suit him,” an ANC insider says.
In scenarios two and three, Zuma is out of the picture and Motlanthe comes in as president. Motlanthe, who is adamant that he wants to avoid a Polokwane-style showdown, has repeatedly told ANC lobbyists that he will not stand for the presidency if Zuma is in the game. In this scenario, Sexwale again sees himself as deputy president, but under a leader with whom he feels more comfortable than he does with Zuma. Motlanthe and Sexwale’s relationship has had its rocky moments, but recently the two leaders are said to have grown closer.
The difficult calculation for Sexwale is whether his last bid for the presidency harmed his chances of being elected second in command.
In 2007 he was better known as a multimillionaire mining magnate and the presenter of the television programme The Apprentice (SA), but since then he has consciously tried to reinvent himself.
Numerous visits and donations to Diepsloot outside Johannesburg — even spending a night there in a shack — are designed to polish his image as a man of the people.
His national housing portfolio has given him additional opportunities to get in touch with grassroots constituencies. And his deployment to KwaZulu-Natal as a representative of the national executive has helped him build ties that could strengthen him at a later date at the ballot box.
Grooming young leaders
He has also been careful to groom younger leaders. Under scenario three, instead of Sexwale coming in as deputy president, either KwaZulu-Natal premier Zweli Mkhize or Gauteng ANC chairperson Paul Mashatile would step up to the plate.
In political circles, these two provincial strongmen and Sexwale protégés have become known in recent years as “Tokyo’s golden children”. Both command considerable support in ANC circles and are said to have moved away from Zuma in the past year.
Also potentially part of Sexwale’s succession plan is Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, who is gunning for the post of ANC secretary general in 2012.
But like a true Survivor contestant, Sexwale is unlikely to play his hand too early. His final game plan will become clear only as the ANC tribe gears up for Mangaung.