In the dining room that serves as a waiting area in President Motlanthe’s house, there is a striking picture on the wall of beautiful pink flamingos with a one standing alone at the front of the flock. The picture says “Leadership” in capital letters and below it: “To be able to lead others, a person must be willing to go forward alone.”
In an interview with Daily Maverick on Thursday, Motlanthe certainly stepped forward alone – patently aware of the attacks that could come his way for speaking frankly about the state of the ANC and recent developments in the country.
Motlanthe, who resigned from all leadership positions in the ANC after standing and losing against Zuma at the party’s 2012 national conference in Manguang, has spoken out several times since then about the decline of the ANC and his belief that the tripartite alliance existed in name only.
Last week, Motlanthe delivered the eulogy at struggle icon Ahmed Kathrada’s funeral that sent shockwaves across the country. Expressing pain at the loss of his close friend and comrade, Motlanthe said it would be disingenuous to pay tribute to Kathrada’s life and “pretend that he was not deeply disturbed by the current post-apartheid failure of politics”. He quoted liberally from Kathrada’s letter to Zuma a year ago calling for the president to step down.
Motlanthe says the decision to cite the letter “came naturally”:
“I just felt that he needed to speak for himself at that funeral. It happened at a time off heightened crisis. It would not have been honourable to misrepresent him and that was best way to represent him.”
Motlanthe made a point of saying in the speech that a year later, no reply to the letter was forthcoming. He said although Kathrada was “deeply disappointed and concerned” about this he bore no resentment towards Zuma.
“He is not like that. He is not one to bear grudges. If you go through that letter, you can’t not feel the pain with which it was penned. He agonised a lot about it and took more than six months to draft it,” Motlanthe said. When the Constitutional Court found last year that Zuma had violated the Constitution, that was the trigger to send it.
Motlanthe is deeply saddened by Kathrada’s death. He tells how Kathrada had a spare set of keys cut for him for his flat in Cape Town. “I literally had a room in his flat.” Kathrada’s best friend and fellow Robben Islander Laloo Chiba had a flat in the next block. Motlanthe says he has cherished memories of many discussions with them that went on till the early hours of the morning.
Motlanthe last saw Kathrada the day after his brain surgery. He was still sedated. “It was not easy. It was difficult to relate to a person you know in that state. I told Barbara (Hogan) I would go back when he’s out of ICU.”
Kathrada’s death took place in the midst of political and economic turbulence, prompted by the recall of former finance minister Pravin Gordhan from London and the subsequent late-night Cabinet reshuffle. Gordhan and his former deputy Mcebisi Jonas were axed from the finance ministry, and the chairperson of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Derek Hanekom, was fired as tourism minister. Kathrada’s funeral triggered an explosion of anti-Zuma sentiment and activism against the president, and the memorial services have served as mobilisation rallies.
Is this disrespectful of Kathrada’s memory? Not at all, says Motlanthe. “Comrade Kathy would be very happy with his send-off.”
“[He] was always committed to the struggle to create and deepen democracy. His commitment was a lifelong commitment… He would have been happy that at last the activists in South Africa are beginning to rise. He was not one to countenance wrongdoing and injustice.”
The ANC is certainly feeling the pressure of the surge of activism and criticism of its constant defence of the president. Zuma has repeatedly treated the ANC with disdain and brought it into disrepute – the most recent examples being his support of Andile Lungisa, who defied the ANC’s rules in a leadership contest, and his rebuffing of a national conference resolution providing for consultation with the ANC’s top officials over Cabinet appointments.
Motlanthe says it is difficult to run an organisation when the leadership does not follow the rules and apply its own constitution consistently. “When the leadership knowingly breaches its own constitution, it breeds anarchy and encourages ill discipline.”
He says ANC structures now have no regard for the constitution, as is evident by the penchant for political intolerance by the ANC Youth League and the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association.
Ironically, threats of disciplinary action are being made against ANC MPs who might vote in favour of the motion of no confidence in the president on April 18. Motlanthe says this would not be an offence in terms of the ANC constitution. He says ANC members who face disciplinary procedures have to receive notice stipulating the charges according to the acts of misconduct set out in Rule 25 of the constitution.
There is no ANC policy on this issue, Motlanthe says, neither are there acts of misconduct relating to voting against the president in Parliament.
But could MPs be charged for acting against the decisions of the ANC national working committee? The parliamentary caucus is not a structure of the ANC, he says.
“Those people are not hirelings of the ANC. They are public representatives. They take an oath as parliamentarians to be public representatives. They can’t be treated the same way as you treat an ANC branch.
Motlanthe says while he understands the decision of some of those who were fired to resign as MPs to retain their pensions, he believes it is better to “stay put”. He said that as Cabinet ministers, people are sometimes required to act against their own consciences.
“Being relieved of such responsibility and burden means they can be free souls. They should stay put and help steer the ship in the right direction.”
So if Motlanthe were still in Parliament, would he vote in favour of the motion of no confidence?
“Yes. Yes I would.”
Asked whether he was not concerned that he would be attacked by Zuma’s supporters for speaking frankly, Motlanthe said:
“That doesn’t matter to me at all. In the heat of struggle men become men of steel, or degenerate into cowards and traitors who end up on the scrap heap”.
He said there were some people in the ANC “who are forever supplicating themselves to the president”:
“They use the president as a metonym for the ANC. When you speak about the ANC critically, they say it’s an attack on the president. When he commits errors, their response is that they must defend the ANC.
“They see it as one and the same thing. It is a psychological thing. They can’t separate the two. Their understanding of the ANC is very very narrow,” Motlanthe says.
A major problem in the ANC is that the elected leadership has substituted themselves for the general membership. He said the general membership was excluded from the decisions and the political life of the ANC. The lack of political education also made members vulnerable to manipulation.
While political education was not the panacea to all the ANC’s problems, it helps to develop political conscience that serves as a barrier to corruption, Motlanthe says.
“Without political education, history can be rewritten and tailor-made to suit certain instances. Statements made by leaders are swallowed up uncritically even if they are anti the policy of the organisation.”
“If you take R240 million for private use and think it is ok, that message translated in simple terms means that a taxi driver shouldn’t stop at a red light. If it is permissible at that level, why not at any other level?”
Motlanthe said the levels of political consciousness were reflected in how ANC members respond to injustice wherever it manifests itself. “Once members of the ANC see injustice visited upon members of the EFF and think it is okay and cause for celebration, it shows consciousness to be low, low, low. Next to zero.”
Many people are critical of how Motlanthe contested the ANC’s presidency against Zuma at the party’s Manguang conference. With the benefit of hindsight, was it a strategic error not to campaign for the presidency?
“If leaders are elected on the basis buying support and through offering sweeteners, you can’t correct it by copying that method,” Motlanthe said. The ANC system does not provide for campaigning, he says, and he was not prepared to work outside it.
“But I also knew certain things were not right. I knew through the audit of branches what you look out for. In KZN there were 200,000 new members and all branches passed the audit effortlessly.”
“I knew clearly that I really don’t belong to this leadership. I was prepared to be led by others. I knew the battle every inch of the way.”
Stuck in his mind are the words of ANC firebrand Harry Gwala, who in 1991, at the ANC’s first conference after its unbanning, ran against Walter Sisulu for the position of deputy president. Motlanthe says he asked Gwala why he did so. Gwala responded that he too would be voting for Sisulu but he had to do what the constitution stated, to allow free contestation according to what the members wanted.
“He said if not, by the third conference, leadership will no longer be elected, it will be arranged. I am quoting him. And now that’s the norm, leadership is arranged, not elected.”
Considering all its problems, would Motlanthe still vote ANC? It turns out that he did so, just this week, in a by-election in his ward. But he sees the ANC heading for a crash.
“Through commissions and omissions, the ANC will lose elections and very few of these pretenders will still be around. When it hits the bottom, they will desert it. At that time, genuine ANC members can regroup and start on a new footing. We can put shoulder to the wheel and rebuild it as a modern party. You have to start with the constitution, which must be aligned to the constitution of the country.”
Motlanthe served as president of South Africa for nine months and understands the power vested in the office. He said as president, a person must accept being managed or they could make big mistakes. He cites the words of Nelson Mandela, when he was handing over the presidency of the ANC to Thabo Mbeki, that leaders should surround themselves with people who are more talented than they are and not use their positions to settle scores.
Regarding Zuma’s reshuffle, Motlanthe said it was clear from the time of Nhlanhla Nene’s firing as finance minister in December 2015 that the president “had his preferences”.
“He never ever accepted Pravin Gordhan. He kept insisting that he made correct choice with (Des) Van Rooyen and was pressured into revising his choice.”
“It was clear to many South Africans that it was a matter of time before Treasury would be raided. Even the collegial spirit in Cabinet was suspended with people like Minister Nomvula Mokonyane attacking the Minister of Finance in public. He was seen as a stumbling block to what they wanted.”
Motlanthe said among the reasons Jonas was fired was because of his position as chairperson of the Public Investment Corporation (PIC).
“He wasn’t like-minded. He wasn’t aligned to their thinking so it was also a matter of time that he would be shown the door. The PIC board will also be reshuffled to get more aligned people into it.”
With regard to the Gupta family, who are seen to be the hidden hand in these manoeuvres, Motlanthe says he has no relationship with them and has never been to their Saxonwold home.
“All I know is that they dislike me intensely,” he says.
Motlanthe says he is concerned by the ANC’s handling of the Public Protector’s state capture report. “They treated it as though it has to do with government and the ANC is not involved. But its outcomes are going to affect the ANC and they are not anticipating this.”
Motlanthe says he occasionally bumps in Zuma at meetings and they greet each other. If given the opportunity, what would his advice be to the president?
“I would remind him of Madiba’s words, about needing people better than himself around him. But also that as a leader you should never ask of others what you are not prepared to do yourself.” This includes leaving office.
Motlanthe says that after the Constitutional Court judgement on Nkandla, Zuma should have stepped down. When there is a breach of the Constitution, thereafter so many people relate view you as not legitimate. Why put yourself through such misery? I truly don’t understand.”
“The honourable thing to do would be to step down.
Motlanthe says the current wave of activism in society is very necessary to rescue the country. “An activist population is the best guarantor for democracy,” he says. But he warns that the situation will get a lot worse before they got better, and there were dark days ahead.
He cites the poem “In Praise of Doubt” by Bertolt Brecht:
But the most beautiful of all doubts
Is when the downtrodden and despondent raise their heads and
Stop believing in the strength
Of their oppressors.
History would have turned out very differently if Kgalema Motlanthe won the ANC’s 2012 election and became South Africa’s president for the second time in 2014. Now we can only guess about that future we never had and the nation we could have been. DM
Photo: Kgalema Motlanthe in Mangaung, 18 December 2012. (Photo Greg Marinovich / Daily Maverick)
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