Perhaps Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe is just President Jacob Zuma’s patsy, a nice guy who finishes last every time, the guy who always takes the fall. But the man has been saying some mighty strange – and politically incorrect – things lately.
Time will probably tell why Motlanthe agreed to put his name forward for the ANC presidency last year, against his president, and then didn’t stand for deputy president of the party. Maybe it was all part of Zuma’s grand design to ensure that his “popularity” was clearly demonstrated. Who knows.
Since then Motlanthe has been stripped of the chairmanship of the committee that is looking into South Africa’s nuclear future. Zuma himself took over the role.
There was a story that his foreign trips had ended abruptly, albeit comfortably, with his expensive holiday trip to Seychelles after the Mangaung congress. But he has, indeed, been stuck at home since then – except to attend Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s inauguration yesterday.
In the run-up to the Mangaung election, Motlanthe said: “If the ANC fails to listen to the people of South Africa, it does not deserve to be in a position of power.”
Then in July this year, he told the Financial Times a similar thing: “If it [the ANC] does not pay attention to the importance of being relevant to the people of South Africa then it will run the risk of losing power.”
Then in question time in the National Assembly on Wednesday, Motlanthe bucked the conventional line on economic policies. South Africa should aim to strengthen its economy enough to ensure that the rand strengthened significantly so that it was on par with the dollar to reduce energy costs, he suggested.
Asked whether South Africa should be investing in oil refineries as a way to reduce the massive petrol costs, which then forced other price rises, Motlanthe argued that these were “dependent on the strength of the economy”.
The best medicine for these economic woes would be to “strengthen our economy enough to get to a point where the rand strengthens… to equal the dollar”, he said, pointing out that South Africa imported the bulk of its oil needs.
His stance stands in stark contrast to the view of Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, who has welcomed the recent drop in the rand value against the dollar because it fuels exports.
But Motlanthe argued: “We are an importer of liquid fuel… and so we are caught up in that bind. We have got to do everything in our power to try to keep the price of petrol as affordable as possible.”
The deputy president also came out with guns blazing over the rocketing demand for social welfare grants. Noting that it was projected that 17 million South Africans could be on social welfare of various kinds by 2017, Motlanthe said: “The fact that we have 15 million South Africans who receive some social grant or the other… is in itself not sustainable. We need to create jobs so that more people can be gainfully employed and be in a position to contribute to the national kitty.”
He said the social welfare grants had the potential to “push the country to a financial crisis”. That was why the government was engaged in a process of attracting foreign direct investment “so we can create more jobs and reduce the numbers who are dependent on social grants”.
Some days it is hard to imagine why the deputy president still belongs to the ruling party. He doesn’t seem to believe in much that it stands for, at least officially.