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A Zuma/Motlanthe deal? Nothing to be cheery about

Sipho Hlongwane is a writer and columnist for Daily Maverick. His other work interests also include motoring, music and technology, for which he has some awards. In a previous life, he drove forklift trucks, hosted radio shows, waited tables, and was once bitten by a large monitor lizard on his ankle. It hurt a lot. Arsenal Football Club is his only permanent obsession. He appears in these pages as a political correspondent.

The simple truth is that if the African National Congress manages to avoid a breakdown at its elective conference in Mangaung by doing a deal, it will still have done nothing but kick the stone further down the street. Jacob Zuma couldn’t save the party, and Kgalema Motlanthe will likewise fail. 

Polokwane might have happened five years ago, but memories in the ANC will have held on to the memory of what the 2007 elective conference did to the party and the country. Many ANC members will want to avoid a repeat of the highly-charged race, the divisive result and the mess it caused for everyone involved, which included the summary and ugly removal of Thabo Mbeki from office just seven months before his term ended, the formation of Cope and the ruling party’s loss of its all-important two-thirds majority. 

There are signs that many people are eager to avoid a repeat of Polokwane at Mangaung. That in itself is a good thing, but it doesn’t mean that the party has turned the corner in any way. The inevitable rift is coming anyway. We will all still be affected by the fallout. 

The Star published a story saying that Zuma’s camp has mooted the idea of offering Motlanthe the state presidency after Zuma’s term ends in 2014 in exchange for a non-contested election in Mangaung at the end of the year. Motlanthe would retain his position as the party deputy president and the ANC would have two centres of power, one in Luthuli House and another at the Union Buildings.

The KwaZulu Natal provincial section of the party also reportedly tried to avert a mass exodus of sore losers at Mangaung by trying to get some kind of agreement with powerbrokers in Gauteng to maintain the status quo of top two leaders in the ANC. Unfortunately the members’ general failure to get any kind of consensus on the other leadership positions meant that no deal was reached. 

The general unease of the Zuma camp is not unfounded. As powerful as their man is, Motlanthe has been doing some quiet sabre rattling of his own. A sweeping biography by Ebrahim Harvey was published last week and some of the quotes in it drive a strong wedge between the subject and Zuma. The criticism of how former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema was turfed out the party, for instance, is exactly the sort of thing that the deputy president’s lobbyists would be looking to hear as a sign that the campaign is indeed on. 

The mere possibility of a Motlanthe challenge has obviously been enough for the Zuma camp to seriously consider a deal.

I’ve said before that Motlanthe is probably facing his last clean shot at the big title. Should he wait for Zuma to see out a second term, he will find that the space will be crowded with the younger generation of leaders who will surely believe that their turn has come. 

This is all good news if the only consideration is the possibility of a very ugly rift of the ANC at Mangaung. That’s not the case, of course. The harm of such deals was made apparent at the recent Cosatu congress. In the aftermath of the Marikana massacre, the trade union federation and its most affected affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), seemed at a loss. The announcement that a special resolution on the tragedy would be taken at the conference was clearly designed to be the response everyone was waiting for. Except it turned out to be a watered down and thoroughly useless document because it sought to appease the NUM and the ruling party rather than taking a strong stance for the rights of mine workers. As much as Cosatu may have wanted to take a strong stance on the issue of Marikana, its most pressing concern was pacifying its largest member union. 

The Marikana declaration turned out to be a deal among the people in the room without much regard to the people it was supposedly representing and addressing.

The deal between Zuma and Motlanthe will be of a similar stripe. It will be struck (if this is the path the ANC ends up going down) for the benefit of keeping factions away from fighting each other, but there will be scant regard for the rest of us. 

This will be another ‘for the people in the room’ deal that will not change much for South Africa, but will only serve to temporarily paper over the cracks in the ANC.

In truth, Motlanthe will not be much different to Zuma as a leader. He may perhaps govern in a way that gives far less offence, but he will not turn the party around. The party cannot fix what is fundamentally broken without changing its very nature, and that definitely won’t happen. 

By electing Zuma in 2007, the ANC showed that it wasn’t interested in the best possible leadership for the party. A Zuma-Motlanthe deal would just be an extension of that thinking. DM


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