As we draw close to the African National Congress’ elective conference in Mangaung, Bloemfontein in a week’s time where it appears some party delegates will choose to retain President Jacob Zuma as its president while others will choose to replace him with his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe it is important for all voting delegates going to Mangaung to really sit down and reflect on what this #Road2Mangaung leadership battle means before deciding which of them stays (or goes, even).
It’s a well-known fact that given results from braches – despite claims of rigged results, with possible court challenge from an ANC faction in North West this week and another when the Constitutional Court reserved judgement in case from ANC faction in the Free State province and with Limpopo and Western Cape provincial branches instructed to reconvene their elective conferences following disruption and intimidation reports – Zuma will be retained as the party’s president. It is also important to indicate that since this is politics – where nothing is predictable – it is still possible that everything could still change at the last minute. This means it should not come as a surprise should Motlanthe replace Zuma as the party’s president despite the latter having received more votes from branch levels than his contender. There are of course a number of reasons why things are likely to change.
For Zuma it is because of his perceived indecisiveness and his tendency to surround himself with often controversial and questionable characters. This, however might count again him as he is accused of surrounding himself with “Yes sirs”: people who do things without critically, for whatever reason, questioning them. One of his strong points, however, unlike his contender – who one can say is hard to understand because he’s never really revealed himself to the kind of a leader he is – is that he is a people’s persons. This, however, might be short-lived especially with many people having lost patience with him, and how he tends to run government or that those that he had chosen choose to run and drive government – often as their spaza shops. The president is also believed (though his supports) to have these “backroom arrangements” which are undemocratic and “against the ethos of the ANC and its constitution”.
And it’s almost these issues that Sandile Memela and Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya touched on when they wrote, respectively, on City Press on 9 December. As we draw close to Mangaung conference, the pair said Zuma and his deputy had to remain principled, true to norms and laws that govern the ANC.
Zuma’s biographer, Jeremy Gordon described him in ZUMA; A Biography (a revised and updated version reprinted in 2009) as “simply a man of great charm” who is “innately respectful of others” – one of the qualities that make him approachable. Gordon said he is “patient” and an expert on the so-called “need to know”. It is further interesting to note what a “shrewd” man the president can be especially “in his own way [especially when one taken into account the role he played in recalling Mbeki]”.
Motlanthe, on the other hand, is regarded as a principled person who does not dictate to those he leads what should or should not happen. His ability to let people think and decide their next move is often seen as his strong point – something Zuma clearly, as a leader, badly lacks. His biographer, Ebrahim Harvey, quoted him saying: “My position is that nobody must try to canvas for themselves in the run-up to elections. It is up to the will of the branches”.
Harvey further quotes Motlanthe in his Kgalema Motlanthe: A Political Biography on a chapter dealing with elections before Mangaung saying: “You serve strictly only for one term. If I am nominated for the position of president and elected in Mangaung, that cannot happen because of any position I held earlier, even though the practice has been for the deputy president to become thereafter the president. It is a matter that is entirely in the hands of voting delegates. Each conference is a new conference for a new term”. He told Harvey that “premature talk of succession” as we have witnessed was “distracting us from carrying out tasks and implementing the policies we agreed to in Polokwane and in fact from building branches and a more united and stronger ANC”.
His spokesperson, Thabo Masebe, told Mail & Guardian early last month that Motlanthe “has never and will never seek election for higher office within the ANC”. He said the deputy president believed “that’s what all ANC members are supposed to be doing and what he will do – that won’t change”. According to Masebe, Motlanthe will fulfil positions as is requested by the people of the ANC movement, that “he won’t be pushed into campaigning for one group”.
Memela said Motlanthe – who has been favoured by some party factions to contest the ruling party’s presidency with President Jacob Zuma – was “unjustifiably condemned as indecisive” by those who have been allegedly campaigning for him underground mainly because for him to canvass support for his election and say “choose me to lead you” would be and is against the constitution of the ANC. This is because he has repeatedly said it is the party branches that should decided who should lead the ANC.
He praised Motlanthe for this, saying he was correct to agonise his alleged campaigners because to openly canvass for and contest the party presidency he would have not only contradicted himself, but that he will have “become part of the problem he has spoken out and fought against: putting individual self-interest ahead of the country’s,” said Memela, a chief director of social cohesion in the department of arts and culture. His commentscome after media reports last month that a number of senior ANC leaders tried to convince him not to contest the position of ANC president, and that other senior Cosatu leaders, too, had approached the deputy president not to contest the ruling party’s presidency.
But M&G reported on 29 November that Motlanthe turned down both proposals, allegedly saying the ANC branches should be given the space to exercise their democratic right by nominating their preferred leaders. The newspaper had three months earlier reported him telling an ANC faction allegedly lobbying for him to challenge Zuma as ANC president that he would only accept a nomination if it was not aligned to slates. Speaking at a meeting dubbed the “Malibongwe Gathering”, Motlanthe said he was not prepared to be associated with slates because they were the main cause of division in the party. These are the very same slates experienced in the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane conference where Zuma was elected President, replacing former President Thabo Mbeki who recalled him in 2005 following his corruption and money laundering charges which have since been controversially withdrawn by the National Prosecuting Authority’s former head, Mokotedi Mpshe – a controversially appointee himself, whose appointment by the Constitutional Court in early October found it to be invalid.
Those associated with the Malibongwe meeting, claimed M&G, include Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale, ANC treasurer Matthews Phosa, Gauteng ANC chairperson Paul Mashatile and Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula. A source told the newspaper that associates “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,” an ANC leader who asked not to be named told M&G.
Dismissing these slates, Motlanthe said in December last year that “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”. M&G reported him saying at the time that it had 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”.
Those opposed to his contesting the Presidency questioned this, telling M&G at the time that that he could still remain deputy president, that the “leadership collective must continue as it is” and that “there is nothing wrong for [him] to stand in 2017. This will be good for the centenary. There will be stability in the organisation.” They further claimed Zuma had accommodated factions that did not support him in 2007 in Polokwane, a clearly indication that he was “not using patronage”, that “If that was the case, [Fikile] Mbalula and Sexwale would have been long gone”.
But unlike those supporting Zuma, as indicated above, it is important for Motlanthe not to canvass for support, said Memela, as by doing so he would be playing “[playing] into the hands of those who fuel a culture of rivalry among comrades who have become notorious for preoccupation with position, power and status to gain access to state resources.” He said condemning slates made him one of the “greatest thinkers and leaders to emerge from the liberation movement in the past 50 years” and that he “is not only self-effacing, but genuinely humble and committed to principle”.
“When pressed to put his plans on the table, Motlanthe has said: “I believe I will always do my humble work at whatever level. I do not have to be in a position of leadership. I am not a professional politician,” wrote Memela in City Press this past Sunday. He criticised those who have vilified him for condemning slates and those who questioned his “intuitively [connectedness] to the aspirations and material needs of his people” as a tragic development. It is therefore sad that it is these “foolish ideals” that Moya speaks of that will now seemingly cause Motlanthe to lose his current position as ANC deputy president because he stuck to the rules that seemingly everyone accepts to be antiquated.
Worse, it appears he might even be recalled from government because of this. Breaking rules, as some want Motlanthe to do, “is like using drugs”, says Moya. He says this will later become a habit that would require an “increasing dosages to give [his campaigners and detractors] the effect [they] once derived”. And just because “everyone is doing it” or that underground campaigns for leadership positions in the ruling party – or even opposition parties as we’ve seen recently with the Democratic Alliance and with the almost non-existing and quite malfunctioning Congress of the People – have existed for ages does not make them right or that they should continue. It is therefore important for “leadership and sense” to prevail in such circumstances as a reminder that rule are complied with.
In his “Rules are there for a reasons”, Moya noted in his that if the rules we have are not suitable for our times or circumstances, then they need to be changed and replaced by ones that are suitable. We must, however, be cautious of only making and changing rules when, say, we want them to favour Zuma as the South African Communist Party has suggested. This follows its general secretary, Blade Nzimande, called last month for a law that would prevent people from insulting a sitting president because, according to him, white South Africans have shown very little respect for blacks and their cultures. Nzimande was reportedly said: “People can differ with me and you can insult me as you like, but disrespect, that is not acceptable”.
Columnist and blogger Khaya Dlanga suggested in early October that if reports of deals are anything to go by – that Motlanthe has been offered a deal to stay on as Zuma’s deputy and that when latter steps down as president in 2014, leaving him to run the country (and possibly the ANC too) – then the deputy president should accept it. Because Britain’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair had allegedly struck such a deal in 1994 with then Labour Party leader Gordon Brown – Dlanga believes if such reports of deals are true, it would make sense for Motlanthe to accept it only for the sake of unifying the now seemingly divided ANC, and that if there are indeed “absolutely enforceable guarantees [that] Zuma will in fact step down in 2014”. Should Motlanthe decide not to accept such a deal from Zuma’s supported as reported by M&G, many will continue to hate and resent him, and thereby reinforcing the factionalism witnessed in the ANC, says the columnist. This will, unfortunately, result in the ruling party losing votes in the 2014 general elections. But what if he does not or that he does step down but things change because politics is a very unpredictable and dirty game not for sissies? Where will that leave Motlanthe? I ask.
Dismissing such deal as were reported by M&G in early October this year, Masebe is quoted in Motlanthe’s biography saying he “will not be party to any arrangement with Zuma’s supporters to not stand against him in return for being returned to the deputy presidency”, adding braches “should be allowed to nominate leaders and no one should engage in attempts to make leadership arrangements”. Harvey goes further to extensively quote Motlanthe warning against those who campaign in his name (or any other person for that matter) and dismissing reports that he had canvassed support for his election that:
“Never, I say, never, because once you do that you get ensnared into factionalist politics and it is tantamount to promoting yourself as the best in the party. You also become indebted [as Zuma allegedly is now] to cliques and for me that is a weak and uninspiring leadership. No, I will never deviate from that fundamental principle, which is that decisions about leadership must rest solely with branch membership and voting delegates. We must never manipulate and manoeuvre because we are ambitious for power and in the process rob the membership of their inalienable right to choose their leaders. What I am much more interested in is a strong and united ANC rather than being preoccupied with becoming the president”.
Abe Mokoena brilliantly described Motlanthe in The Star on 12 December as someone who “[carried] no baggage and his consistent sticking to the principles of the organisation, even at the risk of falling into political wilderness after Mangaung, is enough proof that he is not an unscrupulous careerist politician who is in this field for self-gain but for the service and benefit of the masses.”
Motlanthe is the “most misunderstood ANC leader today”, said Mokoena. This has something to do with his “religiously following the ANC’s principle that members should vote for their preferred candidates and the individuals then indicate whether they accept the nomination or not”, he said. Another factor contributing to his being misunderstood is the fact that he seems to be “doing things by the book and he wants to raise his hand when the right time comes”.
His silence, however, admits Mokoena, on his nomination for the position of the ANC president has not only frustrated the Zuma group to the point of removing him from their slate, but that it has left the entire nation wondering what manner of man he is. Like Memela had noted in City Press, Mokoena concurs that the deputy president’s “non-committal [was condemned] from all angles like a flood of fire”. This, he said, showed an attack on Motlanthe’s “principled stance – an undertaking of the ANC itself” – something he described as a “chilling sense of irony”.
According to Mokoena Motlanthe is neither a “flawed genius or an old-fashioned politician” but that he is a great leader without a great country and whose people, mainly ANC members, have endorsed a violation of rules on the road to Mangaung. He accused those who’ve allegedly gone into intimidating him from and proposing a deal not to contest the ruling’s presidency especially from Zuma’s supporters as reported by M&G as a clear indication that democracy in the ANC is “fast running out of true [and] honest followers”.
What is however disturbing about all this and as described by Mokoena is that those who violate the policies of the party are applauded for being wise while the one man – Motlanthe in this case – who displays discipline, moral correctness and a strong dislike for the politics of the pocket or so-called “backroom arrangements” is described in negative ways.
One believes it is actually Motlanthe’s principleness and as described by ANC Youth League leader, Ronald Lamola – whose organisation nominated him for the position of the ANC president because he stuck to the policies and principles of the ANC, and the Constitution of the country – that one can learned from this #ANCRoad2Mangaung.
But just how many ANC leaders – before or after him – will be as strategic and principled as he especially when it comes to leadership battles? I ask.