Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe has told an ANC faction lobbying for him to challenge Jacob Zuma as ANC president that he would only accept a nomination if it was not aligned to slates, the Mail & Guardian has learnt.
ANC sources close to the anti-Zuma campaign said this week Motlanthe made it clear at a meeting, dubbed the "Malibongwe gathering", that he was not prepared to be associated with slates – lists of candidates for election drawn up by sparring factions – because they were the main cause of division in the party.
The infamous practice was evidenced in the run-up to the watershed ANC conference in Polokwane where Zuma defeated former ANC president Thabo Mbeki. Many believe that the slates, which sideline factional opponents, is what led to the maginalisation of some of the party's best brains simply because they supported the losing faction. This has weakened the party, particularly in terms of policy and the implementation of key ANC programmes to deal with unemployment, poverty and inequality.
Motlanthe, who has not declared his availability, is said to be determined to undo the legacy of Polokwane and put a stop to slates in the ANC. He believes that candidates' election should be based on their capabilities.
Those associated with the Malibongwe meeting include Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale, ANC treasurer Matthews Phosa, Gauteng ANC chairperson Paul Mashatile and Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula.
No confidence in Zuma
"The guys [ANC leaders] went to Kgalema to say they no longer have confidence in President Zuma's leadership and that they wanted him to take over. He [Motlanthe] agreed, but made it clear that he does not want to be in a slate. It was agreed in the meeting that slates will not work. The only thing we should focus on is the position of president.
"We are not married to other positions. We all agreed that this man [Zuma] was not fit to be president. The forces will align under Kgalema. If we did not agree [with Motlanthe's position], it would look like we were just another bunch of powermongers," said an ANC leader, who asked not to be named.
Motlanthe has repeatedly condemned the use of slates at ANC elective conferences at all levels in the party.
"The emergence of slates within our organisational culture and the processes represent the worst form of corruption of the spirit, character and vision of the organisation," Motlanthe told delegates at the Limpopo conference in Polokwane last December.
"The time has come for all of us in the ANC to condemn the slate culture to the dustbin of history. Stealing away the voice of members through slates, buying of votes and treating the ordinary membership as voting fodder … serves no other purpose than to corrupt the organisation."
The M&G understands that, following the Malibongwe meeting, a number of ANC leaders said they were prepared to allow an inclusive selection of leaders in the ANC during nomination. Mbalula is said to be prepared even to accept the position of deputy secretary general to allow policy guru and ANC national executive committee member Joel Netshitenzhe to take over as secretary general, which Gauteng is punting.
Some branches in Ethekwini and on the Lower South Coast, KwaZulu-Natal's two key regions, want transport MEC Senzo Mchunu to be elected as the second deputy secretary general.
Unity and continuity
The issue of having two deputy secretary generals was discussed at the recent ANC policy conference, but it has yet to be adopted as policy. The Eastern Cape is expected to punt ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe to be deputy president, a position for which Phosa and Sexwale have also been proposed.
On the other hand, the pro-Zuma faction believes all the current national officials should be retained in their respective positions for the sake of unity and continuity.
"Why should Kgalema contest? He can remain as deputy president. The leadership collective must continue as it is. There is nothing wrong for Kgalema to stand in 2017. This will be good for the centenary. There will be stability in the organisation.
"JZ accommodated the faction that did not support him, including Sexwale and Mashatile, who were included in his Cabinet. JZ is not using patronage. If that was the case, Mbalula and Sexwale would have been long gone," said an ANC leader in Gauteng.
Zuma enjoys solid support in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal as well as the Free State and Mpumalanga. Motlanthe has the backing of the Northern Cape, North West, Limpopo, the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape and Gauteng.
A senior ANC leader in Gauteng said: "The deputy president is right to condemn slates. The ANC is at a crossroads at the moment because of slates. The majority of the 85 national executive committee members elected in Polokwane were elected based on slates.
"We're now having quantity instead of quality leadership. The slates go hand in hand with money. It is an alien culture in the ANC. The wrong forces have stolen the soul of the ANC. We need organisational renewal in order to restore the core values of the ANC, such as selflessness, discipline, accountability, openness and revolutionary morality. The ANC must be seen to be walking the talk. Renewal must be wholesale. It must not be piecemeal."
But Motlanthe's spokesperson, Thabo Masebe, denied that the deputy president had attended the Malibongwe meeting to discuss nominations. "The deputy president has not spoken to anybody. He understands the processes of the ANC. He has not been nominated. He does not know if he is being nominated. He can't engage with anyone. He understands that nomination starts at a particular time."