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Pretoria - Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe’s strict adherence to the ANC’s rules on campaigning are being perceived as one of the reasons the so-called “forces of change” are floundering in getting their candidates nominated.
But it’s a position he’s unlikely to change.
Motlanthe told the BBC’s World Service in an interview broadcast on Monday he was not being hesitant about clearly stating his willingness to challenge President Jacob Zuma for the ANC leadership.
“It’s not being hesitant; I carry a responsibility to be sure there is adherence to the guidelines,” Motlanthe said.
That means he will give no decisive response to the question whether he is prepared to go head to head with Zuma until after the ANC’s electoral commission formally puts the question to him, on the basis of what the party’s branches have decided.
So far, Motlanthe has the backing of the ANC Youth League - whose expelled president, Julius Malema, first issued the call for him to replace Zuma - and the ANC in Gauteng. While the divided Limpopo and Western Cape provinces have so far been unable to conclude their provincial nominations meetings, KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and Monday also the ANC in North West have all backed Zuma, with Cyril Ramaphosa as his deputy, raising concerns that Motlanthe might be destined for the political wilderness.
But at the weekend, the Northern Cape nominated Motlanthe for re-election as deputy ANC president, the first indication he might be able to back onto a pro-Zuma slate.
However, Motlanthe has consistently spoken out against slates and doing deals - which can only have caused frustration for those determined to see Tokyo Sexwale and Mathews Phosa elevated along-side him.
Both Sexwale, the human settlements minister, and Phosa, the ANC’s treasurer-general, are being championed by the ANCYL - but it could be argued that their ambitions, rather than Motlanthe’s discipline as an ANC member - have contributed to the pro-change project running into headwinds.
Asked if he was nervous that the person who had lobbied extensively for him to take over the leadership of the party was “a maverick - Julius Malema”, Motlanthe appeared to distance himself from the expelled youth leader’s endorsement.
“I don’t even know that he has done any such thing, because people who take public platforms and pronounce, half the time they don’t actually mean what they say. The chances are he makes the pronouncement and then goes home and sleeps,” Motlanthe said.
He dismissed the notion that for the Mangaung conference the youth league - which has been destabilised by Malema’s expulsion - would play the role of kingmakers. Relative to the provinces, the league would have 45 voting delegates at Mangaung - “a real tiny number, so they are not kingmakers”, Motlanthe said.
Asked if the ANC could ever “go back to being what it was”, Motlanthe, who has expressed concern about the infighting and factionalism besetting the party, said: “The ANC was never meant to go back to the past. We ought to strive for relevance today, to ordinary South Africans.
“If ordinary South Africans don’t see in the ANC a natural political home, an instrument which addresses their own concerns, they will shift to other parties.”
Was he seeing this, he was asked. “Yes,” he said.
Asked about his own standards of moral behaviour, Motlanthe was unequivocal. “I do adhere to very strict standards… I don’t dabble in business, I don’t get involved in business. I didn’t do so even as I was serving as secretary-general of the ANC, precisely because that was a position of influence.
“I believe that no one should ever do that; you do that once and there’s no coming back,” he said.
That was why he had “immediately” asked Public Protector Thuli Madonsela to investigate when the Sunday Times published a story suggesting his partner, Gugu Mtshali, was implicated in a bid to solicit the government’s help in a dodgy business deal to sell helicopters to Iran. Madonsela’s investigation and report cleared both Mtshali and Motlanthe.