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DEPUTY President Kgalema Motlanthe is to challenge President Jacob Zuma for the leadership of the ANC – despite the numbers being stacked against him.
Unlike ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa – who confirmed yesterday that he would accepted nomination to stand for election as deputy president against Cyril Ramaphosa, along with Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, who is to challenge Gwede Mantashe for the post of secretary-general – Motlanthe has given no official confirmation, continuing to play strictly by the ANC’s rules.
But those close to him said he had decided to throw his hat into the ring – win or lose – as a matter of principle, and also to send a message about the direction in which the ANC is heading.
Motlanthe is understood to have formally informed the ANC’s electoral commission of his decision.
A key Motlanthe lobbyist said the deputy president had met ANC leaders from Gauteng, among others, in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
He had confirmed at the meeting that he would accept nomination, the lobbyist said.
“He has indicated he will stand,” the source said.
“Win or lose, he will stand. And even if he loses he wants to walk away from the ANC with dignity and pride.
“It’s not a risk. He is driven by principle. The ANC is sick and he will stand against Zuma to show that he does not agree with the path the party is taking. He is very concerned.
“The ANC is not the same and we can’t allow Zuma to continue without being contested.”
Motlanthe – who has said all along it was up to the ANC’s branches to decide – believed that he owed it to the branches that nominated him to stand.
Sources close to Motlanthe said that his commitment to the primacy of the branches in the organisation and its internal processes meant he would accept nomination even if he knew he would not win.
“History will judge that you were part [of the problem] or not,” said the lobbyist.
“[Motlanthe] wants to show he is not.”
A Gauteng ANC leader confirmed the meeting had taken place, but was unhappy about its becoming public knowledge as Motlanthe did not want to be seen to be engaging in factional meetings.
Zuma has overwhelming support before the party’s watershed conference, which starts in Mangaung on Sunday – Motlanthe has secured 863 nominations out of 3 384. Although delegates vote by secret ballot, the chances of an upset seem remote.
Motlanthe’s fastidious determination to stick by the rules and not indicate, one way or another, his readiness to stand against Zuma created challenges for those who were lobbying for him and for broader leadership change – and gave the Zuma campaign momentum at an early stage.
Phosa said yesterday he had accepted nomination for deputy president.
“I’ve accepted the nomination as per the wishes of branches of the ANC to be deputy president,” said Phosa, who was nominated by Limpopo and the Western Cape. “I respect the branches’ wishes.”
Gauteng has nominated Tokyo Sexwale for deputy president.
Mbalula denied reports that he had signed off on his nomination, saying he had not been in Johannesburg to do so.
He would do so when he returned before the end of the week.
“If I’m approached I will (sign). I haven’t been approached yet,” said Mbalula.
ANC electoral commission spokeswoman Frene Ginwala said that not every nominee for the top six positions had accepted.
The commission is to brief the media today “on the processes, rules and regulations towards the hosting of the ANC
national conference”, but is unlikely to say who has accepted nomination.
“Branches nominate the national executive committee, the president,” Ginwala said.
“They nominate for everything. So that’s where nominations happened. It’s then collated.”
The commission was also checking whether those nominated were members in good standing.
Ginwala said there was no deadline for nominees to accept
“The last opportunity will be at the conference itself and delegates can nominate from the floor,” said Ginwala.
“For that they will need 25 percent support (from delegates). From the floor, someone can be nominated again.
“On the ones who are candidates, we haven’t reached that point yet. Eventually they will have to say ‘Yes, I want to stand for president’.”
Should Motlanthe lose the contest, as it is expected he will, he would probably be removed from government before the end of his term as the country’s deputy president in a cabinet reshuffle that’s likely to follow Mangaung.
As South Africa’s president, Zuma appoints his deputy – and has the power to fire him.
Motlanthe’s decision is evidence that an attempted deal to get him to agree not to challenge Zuma and be returned as deputy president went nowhere.
In an interview with Business Day earlier this month Motlanthe said as much, ruling out any deals to secure a leadership position. But he was equally clear that Mangaung represented a “tipping point” for the organisation he had served for so long.
An ANC national executive committee member said it was good that Motlanthe had decided to challenge Zuma.
“Contestation is a good thing,” he said.