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Gaye Davis, Wendy Jasson da Costa and Shanti Aboobaker
DEPUTY President Kgalema Motlanthe bowed out of the leadership of the ANC last night – declining nomination to the party’s national executive committee (NEC) just hours after his challenge for the presidency was, as expected, scuppered by a resounding win for President Jacob Zuma.
New ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa found himself in pole position to become ANC president at the next leadership conference in 2017 and positioned to become the country’s president in 2019.
Motlanthe’s decision to exit the leadership – he will now be an ordinary member of the ANC – reinforced expectations that he would also step down as the country’s deputy president as early as the new year, ending a career in government that began in 2007.
If he does so, Zuma may have to find an interim deputy president.
Although Ramaphosa is not an MP, he could swiftly become one by being put on to one of the ANC’s lists, as these have not been amended in the past 12 months.
But questions were being raised yesterday whether Ramaphosa would be able to wrap up his affairs – he heads an extensive business empire – or even whether he would want to. Becoming a member of the government would require him to comply with an ethics code designed to avoid conflicts of interest.
If he served as ANC deputy president without also becoming the country’s deputy, this would not apply.
There was speculation yesterday that ANC chairwoman Baleka Mbete might be brought back – she has previously served as deputy president – and she, too, could be rapidly put on a list and again sworn in as an MP.
A string of other high-profile ANC members also declined nomination for the NEC yesterday: they included presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj, Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel, Northern Cape ANC chairman John Block, struggle stalwart Jay Naidoo, Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, National Union of Metalworkers of SA general secretary Irvin Jim, National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) general secretary Frans Baleni, and former Free State ANC chairman Ace Magashule.
Motlanthe and Ramaphosa – old friends with a shared union background – exchanged warm embraces last night.
Ramaphosa’s entry into the government was welcomed by the markets, but labour was more circumspect, Vavi noting not only his ability to reassure business, but also his labour background as a founding secretary of NUM.
“I have full confidence in our leaders that indeed they will outdo themselves. They were elected by the entire leadership of the ANC,” Motlanthe told delegates.
But he urged the ANC, as the “epitome of democracy”, to continue working against racism and sexism.
“We must continue to sharpen our ability to hear the cries of our people (to eliminate) unemployment, poverty and inequality and utilising the mandate from our people to address these challenges,” said Motlanthe, who looked drained.
Zuma was returned for a
second term with 2 983 votes to Motlanthe’s 991 – a margin of about 25 percent, which was echoed in the defeats of all the challengers who went up against those standing on Zuma’s slate.
While no surprise, the outcome saw Zuma supporters erupt in triumphal celebration inside the plenary marquee on the University of the Free State campus and across the city of Bloemfontein, which reverberated to the sound of vuvuzelas, hooters and blaring music systems after the decisive victory was announced at midday.
In his victory speech, Zuma said it was important that delegates move beyond the election and unite the party, warning against sidelining those who backed the losing candidates and insisting the new leadership preside over a united party.
“You have to be careful about how you treat one another. You can’t find a situation where after the elections of officials and the additional members, members who were exercising their democratic right must feel that they are outside the organisation. No one must feel so,” Zuma said.
While he is expected to reshuffle his cabinet in the new year, Zuma might wait until after the January cabinet lekgotla and his State of the Nation address before doing so – to avoid accusations of retribution.
But the heads of Gauteng ANC chairman Paul Mashatile, strategist behind the campaign for change, and Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale, who challenged for treasurer general and deputy president respectively, may be on the block. Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, who contested Gwede Mantashe for secretary-general, may survive due to the value of his organisational skills.
It will take more than rhetoric to heal the fissures in the ANC that are threatening – some are hinting – to erupt in another splinter formation.