Can ANC presidents trust their deputies?

No one wants to be number two. Even number three doesn’t want to be number two to get there. The aspiration to be number one is so consuming that it causes many number twos to jostle for position before they should, or before they are ready. They believe that they deserve to be number one above the reigning number one. 

Buzz Aldrin was the second man on the moon and probably wished he was the one who said, “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Neil Armstrong has now immortalised those words. 

When Apple began trading as a company, there was a dispute between the cofounders about who was going to be employee number one. Two Steves essentially founded the company, the very famous Steve Jobs who passed away last year and a lesser-known one, who is well known in geekdom, Steve Wozniak. 

Wozniak was named employee number one, something Jobs couldn’t live with. He fought tooth and nail to be number one, but that honour had already been given to Wozniak. 

Eventually, Jobs came back with the proposal that he would accept Wozniak as employee number one, if he could be employee number zero, which, in a twisted way made him number a notch above one. 


Closer to home, Nelson Mandela was reluctant to be ANC president after his release from prison because he felt Oliver Tambo had done all the work while he was imprisoned. Mandela felt he had no right to claim the position despite the many who wanted him to take the post. 

In 1991 he was finally elected president and Walter Sisulu was made his deputy. In 1994, Mandela appointed a new deputy, Thabo Mbeki, who was dedicated and diligent. In fact, Mandela always made sure to mention that Mbeki was the one running the show.

There were rumours of Mandela’s frustration with Mbeki for not informing him of decisions and of keeping him in the dark. It was also well known that Mandela would not seek a second term, and was at pains to make sure that the country knew Mbeki was his preferred successor. 

When Mandela retired, Mbeki became party president and Jacob Zuma his deputy. The pair’s history doesn’t need to be retold but we know that while deputy president of the ANC, Zuma campaigned to depose the incumbent Mbeki. And he succeeded. 

Now it’s Zuma’s turn to worry about his deputy. Is Kgalema Motlanthe going to throw his hat into the ring and campaign against Zuma? The key difference between Zuma and Motlanthe’s campaigns as deputies is that Zuma didn’t think he was better than Mbeki – the presidency was merely his salvation. He was saving himself from hell. The presidency would be (for lack of a better turn of phrase) his personal Jesus Christ. If he got it, he might be able to halt the court cases against him. 

Motlanthe on the other hand is not trying to save himself. He genuinely believes the ANC needs to be rescued and that he is the man for the job – if he makes it apparent that he is running for the presidency. Zuma is running on the platform of a “second transition”, it’s a term he and the people in his corner have been throwing around. Talking about a second transition seems to be admitting that there was a failure and now there’s a need to spin that failure by giving it a fancy name. 

In a speech last week, Motlanthe questioned the transition, “From where to where? What constituted the first transition? Have all those tasks been accomplished or not?” He was clearly questioning Zuma’s effectiveness during his first term – if the newspapers quoted him correctly. Ladies and gentlemen, this guy is running. Let’s not kid ourselves. He is tired of being number two; he wants to be number one too. And good for him, because he is not a man trying to save himself. For the sake of the ANC, I hope he is trying to save the ANC from its self-inflicted wounds. 

The question remains, if Motlanthe is running, who will be his deputy? He probably wouldn’t pick Tokyo Sexwale, who clearly has designs for the presidency as well – come the end of his first term as ANC president, he would most certainly face a Sexwale challenge. It seems that the number two spot in the ANC inspires great ambition. So, in Mangaung, will number two become number one? Will history repeat itself? We will wait and see – and then watch the show again in five years’ time.

Follow Khaya on twitter: @KhayaDlanga

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