Motlanthe gives the Youth League a big, bear hug

By Andy Rice 27 August 2010

On the last day of the ANC Youth League's national general council conference, it was time for the ruling party’s Number Two to address the Young Lion and his many cubs. And he didn't completely disappoint them.

If Kgalema Motlanthe had given his speech during a time normal political life, it would be headlines all over the place. He had plenty of political meat to deliver, most of which will be ignored by the rest of the “greatest liberation movement”.

There was, of course, the usual guff about how the ANC values the Youth League, about how they like a “hyperactive” league, that youngsters haven’t felt fear and that is okay for them to go overboard sometimes. All in all, it was a big Motlanthe hug for the League. (Perhaps he decided he doesn’t really need them as an enemy at this moment? – Ed)

But then there was a substantive part of his speech, and one could, if ever adopted, alter the future of the party. Motlanthe joined ANC national chairwoman Baleka Mbete in the quest to end the practice of electing leaders on slates. For the uninitiated, slates are groups of candidates running together. If you take Polokwane as an example, Zuma, Motlanthe, Mbete etc. were on one slate, the winning slate as it happens, while Mbeki, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Mosouia Lekota etc. were on the losing slate. Motlanthe says that this is “removing the right of delegates to actually elect”. He goes further, if the League doesn’t end its own slate practice, “the toxicity will spread throughout the ANC”. He’s absolutely right, of course. As we observed just after the Gauteng ANC elections, slates enable gigantic failures, like Gwen Ramokgopa, to stay in political power, despite proven lack of competence in running the city of Pretoria. It allows a whole array of chancers and tenderpreneurs to hang on the coat-tails of one leader, each of them bringing their own smaller groups to produce one winning ticket.

The irony is that Motlanthe was, of course, on Zuma’s slate at Polokwane, as was Mbete. But such is the nature of the total power which slates give to the winner that it’s unlikely his warning will be heeded. The fact is that if you are going for a leadership position, you’ll align yourself with people and form your own coalition. And there’s the added benefit that you completely shut out any camps opposing you by arranging a slate. It also allows for all kinds of horse trading that an organisation as ideologically broad as the ANC needs to come up with a coherent group of leaders. But it does stop people voting for individuals. The only real way to end it would be to hold elections at different times for different positions, to stagger them, but we can’t really see that happening.

Motlanthe also spoke at length on the need for the ANC to respect the autonomy of its leagues. It’s a point close to the League’s heart, particularly in the aftermath of the Malema disciplinary hearing. We’re cynics, and we trust you are too, or you wouldn’t be reading this. So we hope you’ll share our wry smile when we suggest that the subtext of Motlanthe’s speech is that if he was ever elected ANC leader, the League’s autonomy would be guaranteed.

It should also ensure that, at the very least, the League doesn’t actively campaign against him in 2012.

By Stephen Grootes

(Grootes is an Eyewitness News reporter)


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