South Africa

Kgalema Motlanthe remains a dilemma

By Ranjeni Munusamy 30 August 2012

The process to nominate candidates for ANC leadership posts is just weeks away. Yet Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe is as inscrutable as ever, redefining the term 'poker face' in the high stakes game for the ANC presidency. On Wednesday, bait was dangling before him to say something noteworthy – even presidential – on various issues, including Marikana. He didn’t take it. But he did throw the tiniest of bones, which could be open to interpretation. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe has made it clear he intends to follow the ANC rules to the letter and would only pronounce on his willingness – or not – to contest the ANC presidency once he is formally nominated for the post at the appropriate time. Now it looks like he is just messing with the rest of us. 

It is difficult to fathom how anyone hoping to be president can be that disciplined and not want to demonstrate their leadership qualities so close to the big showdown at Mangaung. Besides, Motlanthe’s supporters are in the fight of their lives in ANC structures and are desperate that he doesn’t bail out on them at the minute. 

Some party structures are even pushing ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe to conclude an audit of ANC branches so that the nominations process can begin earlier than the scheduled October commencement, allowing more time to campaign once Motlanthe accepts nomination.  

But Motlanthe has been deadly quiet over the last few weeks, as factional battles in the ANC have intensified and the biggest post democracy disaster, the Marikana massacre, have gripped the country. President Jacob Zuma on the other hand has been extremely visible and has displayed, albeit intermittently, presidential qualities after the massacre.

Motlanthe was present but didn’t speak during last week’s heated parliamentary debate on the massacre, when opposition parties tore into government for the police using live ammunition on the striking Lonmin mineworkers and for not intervening sooner to prevent the bloodbath. He looked on deadpan as speaker after speaker expressed outrage, some demanding Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa’s head. He was also unmoved as Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu barked “shut up!” at the Democratic Alliance. 

His profile has dipped somewhat since the ANC policy conference at the end of June, so it is not known whether the surprisingly large show of support for his candidacy has resulted in his diary being fixed such that he didn’t have a chance to outshine Zuma. But Motlanthe has also gagged and bound himself so tightly that he is a captive in his own prison of nondescription.     

Motlanthe has not had the opportunity to speak on the Marikana massacre, particularly because the president has taken a leading role, even instructing the Farlam commission of inquiry to report to him on a monthly basis on its progress. 

It would be assumed that as a former general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, the Marikana massacre would be an issue close to Motlanthe’s heart and that he would have sentiments he would want to express.  The opportunity presented itself Wednesday, when he was scheduled to answer questions in Parliament. While Motlanthe was due to answer four questions with scripted replies, the format allows follow-up questions from MPs which he can ad lib on. And the opposition was definitely trying to bait him.

In a follow-up question, IFP MP Narend Singh asked Motlanthe about the non-delivery of textbooks in Limpopo. Motlanthe said once Cabinet had a full report from the presidential task team investigating the matter, it would work to ensure that “this omission is never repeated”. He said the focus was to ensure that orders were placed now for the 2013 year so that textbooks could be delivered before end of this year. 

“This is not just a challenge facing the Department of Basic Education but government in its entirety. Education is an apex priority. If it means books need to be delivered by the defence force, so shall it be. No child shall be without learning material when school begins,” Motlanthe said. 

Cope’s Nick Koornhof asked whether Motlanthe thought the Marikana massacre would hamper business confidence. Explaining that it was too early to tell whether the Marikana tragedy would have long-term effects on investor confidence, Motlanthe resisted delving into the issue. But he did let on that he had been paying attention and that he even studies the markets.

“What I’ve observed by looking at the share price of Lonmin itself is that it has gone down. As to how long that would be, I’m not sure yet.

“The point is, however, that we should as a country, as public representatives, continue to reassure investors that South Africa is the place to invest their money, particularly in mining as an important investment outlet for them to consider,” Motlanthe said. 

The DA’s Tim Harris asked whether Motlanthe would support the replacement of closed shop agreements with the proportional representational model for labour bargaining in order to prevent an explosion of unrest associated with the dominance of certain trade unions in sectors like mining from breaking out. 

The deputy president said it was not up to him to express an opinion, but it was the job of MPs to amend the Labour Relations Act, if needed.

“I am wary of any suggestion that is aimed at whittling away rights. We are a country and society which prides ourselves on our record of human rights. Now, whether the collective bargaining regime impacts positively or negatively is something we must always debate, assess and adjust our legislative framework accordingly,” Motlanthe said.

DA Parliamentary Leader Lindiwe Mazibuko once again tried to pin Motlanthe down on whether the controversial youth wage subsidy would be implemented by government. Motlanthe said subsidy should not be seen as a silver bullet for unemployment, but was part of a multi-pronged approach to create jobs for the country’s youth.

Under persisted questioning, Motlanthe said the subsidy would be introduced after negotiations at National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) were concluded. “It may not be in the original form, it may be enriched, it may be in a more effective way,” he said. 

Cope Leader Mosiuoa Lekota again delivered Marikana to Motlanthe, asking what measures government intends implementing to prevent violent and destructive protests. Motlanthe said everyone had the right to protest but there should be respect for the rule of law. He said it was of concern that violence was being “normalised” and that efforts were being made to strengthen government’s capacity to deal with violent demonstrations. 

MPs asked Motlanthe whether government had mechanism to track the pulse of communities and about the intelligence failure around Marikana, to which he gave non-committal responses. 

Cope MP Papi Kganare asked why the ministers of Police and Intelligence could not be sacked for their failure to detect that the situation at Marikana had deteriorated to the extent that it led to the massacre. 

It was only then Motlanthe threw out a bone: “Unfortunately I’m only the deputy president; I also serve in the Cabinet by invitation.”

It’s not much, but the statement suggests that Motlanthe’s hands are tied until he is promoted above the position he is now – and that post happens to be up for advertisement sometime soon. Yes, it’s grasping at a tiny straw, but it was the only thing Motlanthe said in all the time he had to speak that suggested he would act differently if he was not “only the deputy president”, prefixing it with “unfortunately’. (The irony was that he was Acting President when he said so, as Zuma was in Botswana on a state visit.)

So the Invisible Man remains just that – if only for a few weeks more. DM


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