Why Motlanthe should take the Zuma deal – if it exists

I was having a conversation with an acquaintance a couple of days ago about the ANC's elective conference in Mangaung at the end of the year, and she was extremely exasperated by my saying that Zuma would get a second term at the helm of the ANC. 

She turned to me and said: "You mean that we are going to have this guy for another five years?" 

I told her she was mistaken; we would have him for another seven years because he has only served three. The expression on her face basically said: "Please, kill me now." And then she said, "He has only served three years? It feels like 10 already! Does God hate us that much?"

That's how a lot of "these clever people" feel. Each year of Zuma's rule has felt as long as five years.

There were reports that Motlanthe has been offered a deal to stay on as Zuma's deputy, and Zuma would step down as South African president in 2014, leaving Motlanthe to run the country. How true these rumours are we do not know. Let's amuse ourselves for a moment and say they are true. 

If so, what should Motlanthe do?

If the numbers stay as they are, Zuma looks set to win a second term as party leader hands down and Motlanthe will be left in the cold. At least he won't be outside the ANC, like expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, where it is as cold as Siberia.

Some questions that Motlanthe would have to ask himself would be: can he actually trust Zuma to stick to his word and step down in 2014? When in 2014 would he actually step down? Would he give a specific date? If Zuma suddenly decided he didn't want to step down anymore, what measures could the ANC take to ensure he fulfills his promise?

Remember Britain's former prime minister Tony Blair is said to have, in 1994, struck a similar deal with then Labour Party leader Gordon Brown. According to reports, Blair prolonged his time as head of government, causing Brown a great deal of frustration.

Let's assume that Zuma actually does sticks to his word, but let's also not forget we also heard he told the ANC he would not seek two terms after Polokwane, something he denied of course. We wouldn't think Zuma a Nelson Mandela for stepping down at all. Many will think, "It's about goddamn time because these three years already feel too long." 

If Zuma does give up power in 2014, he would be doing the ANC a great service. Here's why:

  1. He would have a definite successor – someone the ANC will most certainly fall back on. This is something the party hasn't had since Mandela was president, when he would make speeches saying Thabo Mbeki was his chosen successor.
  2. He would also leave the ANC united. As the ANC's discussion document, Through the Eye of the Needle, states: "Those in leadership positions should unite and guide the movement to be at the head of the process of change. They should lead the movement in its mission to organise and inspire the masses to be their own liberators. They should lead the task of governance with diligence. And, together, they should reflect continuity of a revolutionary tradition and renewal which sustains the movement in the long term." The first key point here is leaving the movement united as set out by the document. The second key point is sustaining the movement in the long term. The ANC's survival would be questionable if there is no clear succession plan. Divisions will get deeper and consequently, the country will suffer. As much as we would like to separate the ANC from the country, the reality is that the ANC has such a strong grip on and it would be difficult to separate the two unfortunately.
  3. Motlanthe would most certainly get the ANC more votes in a general election than Zuma, partly because the ANC will be more united than it has been in a long time, and partly because Zuma wouldn't be president of the country. Harsh, but true. The ANC would continue to lose some votes to the Democratic Alliance, but not at as quick a pace as it currently is. When Zuma took over, the ANC lost 4% of the gains it made in 2004 under Mbeki, and if he remains at the helm, the slide will continue, putting the ANC's leadership in some provinces in danger.

For the sake of unifying the ANC, Motlanthe should take the Zuma deal – but only if there are absolutely enforceable guarantees Zuma will in fact step down in 2014. The ANC should not keep Zuma and sacrifice votes during a general election.

Some may call a deal with Zuma a deal with the devil. But for a sustainable ANC, Motlanthe should ascend. If Motlanthe doesn't take the deal, he will be hated by one half of the ANC and we will see a further re-enforcement of factionalism in the party. The party will lose votes in 2014. For the sake of pragmatism, Motlanthe should take the deal. Of course his supporters, those who are impatient with Zuma, will say that he is weak for accepting such a deal but it would be the right thing to do for the ANC in the long run.

If Zuma leaves the ANC more united and with a clear succession plan, we might just forgive him for Nkandla. Or not. But he would have done something worthy of applause.

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