From the moment the Mangaung succession battle began, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe’s willingness and ability to stand against President Jacob Zuma has been the big conundrum for South Africa. A missing element has been why nobody has been able to decode what Motlanthe plans to do. RANJENI MUNUSAMY unravels the puzzler.
As ANC structures announce their preferences for the ANC leadership, some in the faction supporting President Jacob Zuma’s second term have issued ultimatums against Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. They have warned that if Motlanthe dares to contest the ANC presidency, they would not support him for any position in the top six.
The Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans’ Association (MKMVA) was the latest structure to announce its preferences this week. “We will support Kgalema Motlanthe for deputy president, but if he contests the (presidency), the conference resolved to support comrade Cyril Ramaphosa (for deputy president),” MKMVA Chairman Kebby Maphatsoe said at a press conference Thursday.
Some structures, like Mpumalanga Province, have dropped Motlanthe’s name altogether to punish him for his perceived challenge against Zuma. Even though Motlanthe has never said he would do so, they feel his silence has encouraged those wanting to unseat Zuma. There were also heated discussions during this week’s Cosatu Central Executive Committee meeting about whether Motlanthe should be retained as deputy president due to the fact that he has not clarified whether he would stand against Zuma.
The reason the pro-Zuma camp has adopted this stance is because it, like everyone else, has been assuming that voting at the ANC’s 53rd national conference in Mangaung in December would go the same way it did in 2007 at Polokwane. Then there were two distinct factions, which produced two slates of names for the top six. The election was therefore a runoff with two candidates for each position. Delegates voted for all the top six positions at one go.
But what seems to have been overlooked is that the ANC constitution does not preclude candidates from contesting more than one position. This provision is what informs Motlanthe’s stance.
Every time Motlanthe has been asked whether he would be standing for election at Mangaung he has responded that he would follow due process and go according to the will of the branches. He has also said he would only be able to say whether he accepts or declines nomination when the ANC’s electoral commission asks all candidates proposed by branches whether they are prepared to stand.
Motlanthe has so far been nominated for two positions: president and deputy president. It is likely that this pattern will continue once branches submit their nominations. So judging by what Motlanthe has said about following the will of branches, he would accept candidacy for both positions as there is nothing in the rules that precludes him from doing so.
If he does follow this approach, the election at Mangaung may end up a lot more complicated than in previous years when candidates contested only one position.
In theory, the electoral commission could announce to delegates at the conference that there were two candidates for president and that one was also nominated for the position of deputy president. Delegates would have to vote for the position of president first. If Zuma wins the vote, Motlanthe automatically drops into the second ballot for the position of deputy president. If Motlanthe wins the presidency, the ballot for the deputy president proceeds with the other candidates nominated for that position.
This would be applicable to all candidates nominated for more than one position. Technically, Motlanthe would be following the process to the letter by taking this approach. He has refused to campaign or attach himself to any faction. He has also discouraged the use of slates. And he would be doing exactly what he has said he would do: acceding to the will of the branches, which make up 90% of the conference delegates.
All other candidates nominated for two positions or more should strictly be doing the same thing if they claim to want to represent the will of ANC members. But the tendency has been to accept the candidacy for the highest position and decline all others.
This is what Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma did at the Polokwane conference. She was nominated for deputy president on the Mbeki slate and national chairwoman on the Zuma slate. She accepted the nomination for deputy president but declined the other. Unfortunately for her, she was up against Motlanthe and delegates were also voting in blocs along the Zuma-Mbeki divide. The gamble backfired and she ended up with no position in the top six.
By accepting nomination for both president and deputy president, Motlanthe would avoid heading a camp ticket and would not be beholden to any faction in the ANC. If anything, it would defuse the camp warfare and keep his position neutral. This is consistent with the position he played as secretary-general during the Mbeki-Zuma battle, when he tried to maintain a neutral role. And it explains why his name appeared on both the Zuma and Mbeki slates shortly before Polokwane.
Zuma, who has consistently adopted the line that the ANC must decide, cannot now accuse his deputy of plotting to unseat him when it would be clear that Motlanthe is prepared to serve in any position. Zuma’s campaigners however, particularly the KwaZulu-Natal lobby, would still begrudge Motlanthe as they do not want the presidency to be contested at all. They have been extremely frustrated as all attempts to bait Motlanthe up to now have come to naught as he has refused to reveal his hand.
Those lobbying for Motlanthe to be president are also increasingly frustrated by the fact that, so close to the conference, they are not able to tell whether he is willing to take on Zuma. They fear that after such a messy battle, he could dump them at the last minute and collapse their plan to remove Zuma.
Others willing to take up the cudgel, like Tokyo Sexwale, are unable to do so until Motlanthe formally declines nomination for president. The nominations process closes towards the end of November and the electoral commission would therefore only approach the candidates in early December. This means that if Motlanthe had to decline nomination for president, the only hope for the Anything But Zuma campaign would be to nominate an alternate candidate from the floor of the conference. As there would not have been sufficient lobbying for such a candidate among the delegates, this could be a risky gamble.
While the ANC dissuades the use of slates, it is strange that they have not spelled out to branches something that could so easily defuse the camp warfare: that candidature for senior positions are not mutually exclusive. It is difficult to believe Motlanthe is the only person in the ANC aware of this loophole, and that someone like Secretary General Gwede Mantashe has not been able to read between the lines and figure out the deputy president’s approach.
However, because some in the Zuma camp want a no-contest pre-conference deal, they are perhaps deliberately overlooking the provision and raising the stakes on purpose to get Motlanthe to back off from the presidency.
Of course, Motlanthe might still opt for the deal in order to remove the uncertainty around the conference or as part of a pact that would see him take over the state presidency in 2014. He may also not get sufficient backing from the branches during the nominations process for one or the other post which could result in him standing for just one position.
While the approach of accepting all nominations would be a shrewd move by Motlanthe, it still does not explain why he is taking such a beating from some quarters of the ANC without trying to help them understand him better. Just a little more detail to his stock responses would cast much needed light on the issue and take some of the heat of him.
It could be that his enigmatic behaviour is designed to confound and unsettle his detractors. Or maybe Kgalema Motlanthe just enjoys being The Invisible Man. Or Keyser Söze. Only time will tell. DM
Photo: Kgalema Motlanthe (Jordi Matas)