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By Gaye Davis, Shanti Aboobaker and Wendy Jasson da Costa
Bloemfontein - Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe bowed out of the leadership of the ANC on Tuesday night, declining nomination to the party’s national executive committee just hours after his challenge for the presidency was scuppered by a resounding win for Jacob Zuma.
New ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa found himself in pole position to become ANC president at the next leadership conference in 2017 – as well as positioned to become the country’s president in 2019.
Motlanthe’s decision – he will now be an ordinary member of the ANC – reinforced expectations that he would also step down as the country’s deputy president in the new year, ending a career in government that began in 2007.
If he does, Zuma might be forced to find an interim deputy president.
Although Ramaphosa is not an MP, he could swiftly become one by being put onto one of the ANC’s lists (provincial or regional to national), as these have not been amended in the past 12 months.
But questions were being raised as to whether Ramaphosa would be able to wrap up his affairs – he heads an extensive business empire – or even whether he wanted 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 that ANC chairwoman Baleka Mbete might be brought back – she previously served as deputy president – and again be sworn in as an MP.
Ramaphosa’s coming into government was welcomed by the markets, while Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi noted on Tuesday that not only Ramaphosa’s ability to reassure business, but also his labour background as a National Union of Mineworkers founding secretary.
Vavi said that, on one hand, his election had seen the rand strengthen “and the markets are glowing because one of their own is now in pole position to take over the ANC presidency in five years’ time”.
“But for workers, usually the things that make the markets happy make them unhappy.”
Motlanthe, who warmly embraced Ramaphosa, told delegates: “I have full confidence in our leaders that, indeed, they will outdo themselves. They were elected by the entire leadership of the ANC.”
But he also urged the ANC, as the “epitome of democracy” in South Africa, to continue working against racism “and eliminate sexism in our midst”.
“We must continue to sharpen our ability to hear the cries of our people” to eliminate unemployment, poverty and inequality, “utilising the mandate from our people to address these challenges”, said Motlanthe, who looked exhausted.
Zuma’s return for a second term by 2 983 votes to Motlanthe’s 991 reflected a wide margin – which was echoed in the defeat of all the challengers who went up against those standing on Zuma’s slate.
Though the outcome was no surprise, Zuma’s supporters erupted in triumphal celebration.
In his victory speech, Zuma said it was important that delegates moved beyond the election and united the party.
He warned against sidelining those who had backed the losing side and insisted that the new leadership must 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,” the ANC president said.
Although he is expected to reshuffle his cabinet in the new year, Zuma might well wait until after the January cabinet lekgotla and his State of the Nation address before doing so, in order to avoid any 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 deputy president, are clearly on the block.
Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, who opposed Gwede Mantashe for secretary-general, might survive thanks to his organisational skills.
It will take more than rhetoric to heal the fissures in the ANC that are threatening – as some are hinting – to erupt in another splinter formation.
“We have a top six coming from a slate of the majority, but there are 900 people who are clearly not happy and wanted change,” Vavi said.
“It’s the responsibility of the 900 to embrace the results and the responsibility of those who won to unify the ANC.”