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Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma might have many faults, but one thing he is not is a fool. If anything, he is a crude, calculating tactician.
The Star’s report on Thursday about how his lobbyists have decided to drop his current deputy as one of several options being considered for the position after Zuma’s expected victory in Mangaung is telling.
Zuma’s lobbyists reportedly approached Motlanthe and offered him a chance to go in on Zuma’s slate as his deputy, which chance Motlanthe gracefully turned down. They read this as a sign of his intention to contest Zuma, which may well be.
Motlanthe has, to his credit, said that he does not want to be part of “leadership by arrangement” and publicly said that slates were destroying the ANC. It is a principled stand; one that, however unlikely, should be emulated, and one that will certainly not secure Motlanthe any victory in Mangaung.
And perhaps Motlanthe has resigned himself to that fate and wants to exit the stage in a dignified manner - and not have his name associated with factions.
In this way, perhaps, his name might proudly be mentioned among those proud sons and daughters of the ANC like Tambo, Sisulu and Mandela.
Zuma’s lobbyists, knowing that Motlanthe’s moral high ground will not win him votes, have offered him and his chief lobbyists seats on the party’s national executive committee post Mangaung.
But therein lies the rub.
On the surface, this appears a sudden surge of benevolence. Zuma and his supporters seeking a multiplicity of voices, which will enrich debates within the NEC.
It creates an impression that they are not preoccupied with a winner takes all mentality. Good people, these.
Their actions contradict Zuma’s own words to the DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko on the meaning of democracy in Parliament recently: “We (the ANC) have more rights here because we are in a majority. You (opposition) have fewer rights because you are in a minority. That is why you sit on that side of the house, you can’t sit on this side (with ANC MPs)”.
This majoritarian approach, so to speak, is suddenly inapplicable. Motlanthe’s supporters such as Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, presidential hopeful Tokyo Sexwale and many other prominent so-called anti-Zuma leaders except Mathews Phosa (we must wonder why?) will be accommodated.
We quoted a Zuma lobbyist saying: “You can’t have an NEC that always agrees with the president. It is dangerous to have an NEC that has no opposition within”. Really?
Motlanthe’s supporters ought to be grateful, right? Wrong.
The truth, really, is stranger than fiction. Far from being a free giver, or people interested in the multiplicity of voices within the NEC, Zuma and his strategists have come up with a novel way of sidelining Motlanthe. And this is how: If Motlanthe loses and all the prominent people behind him are not accommodated in Zuma’s NEC, in the same way that almost all of those who were behind Thabo Mbeki in Polokwane in 2007 were, this could be the seeds of the creation of another party.
The ANC could least afford to have another Cope-type party, in addition to Mosiuoa Lekota’s outfit, in the period leading to the crucial 2014 elections. The ANC is currently battling a resurgent DA, that now more than in 2009, has a number of prominent black people speaking on its behalf.
Lekota is being dramatic in Parliament. With the DA, he is now taking the ANC to court over a motion of no confidence in Zuma. Cope might not get all the people who voted for it in 2009 to vote for it again.
But it will still get a number of those who stopped voting for the ANC when Zuma became president to vote for it again - and that remains a niggling problem for the ANC.
And 2014 is a crucial election. It would be 20 years since the ANC took over government. Many of the so-called born frees, who have no experience of apartheid, will be voting for the first time.
Many “regular” voters who have been waiting for a better life for all - the mine- workers who experienced the Marikana massacre and those who continue to live in vast expanses that make up shacklands of our country without jobs and a possibility of improved quality of life will ask: if 20 years of voting has not changed much of my life, why should I expect my vote for the ANC now to change anything?
Millions of those who are happy to have received RDP houses and new water connections will tell them their time will come.
Hopefully, they will believe that and be moved to vote for the ANC, still.
But a significant portion of those with jobs who populate urban areas will also ask themselves if another term for Zuma will do the country any good. They will look at the money for books in Limpopo being unavailable; Limpopo being unable to run half of its own government because of corruption; R240 million being spent to build a bunker and whatever else; they will ask why someone such as ANC Northern Cape leader John Block, in and out of court on corruption charges, must remain their leader; they will look at Zuma’s spy tapes saga and wonder why the courts must be disrespected so openly for so long.
They will look at the rate of poverty, inequality and unemployment and wonder what the ANC will do differently in the next five years that it could not do in 20 years.
Now, as the ANC fends off these in the period leading to the 2014 elections with Zuma at the helm and Motlanthe in the cold, it would do well to avoid an internal uprising from those who currently clamour for change. To make sure the uprising is stillborn, the tactician that is Zuma will seek to accommodate these prominent Motlanthe supporters within the ANC NEC.
Not for increased quality of debates and also not because of some surge of benevolence. But, importantly, because this will lock potential trouble-makers within and avert another ANC offshoot.
Even if Zuma backers are convinced that Motlanthe is a disciplined cadre who will not leave the ANC, their concern is about his supporters, especially those who are prominent. Zuma knows Cope is not led by Mbeki, even though the prominent people who formed it used his name. Now Zuma’s ANC wants to ensure that the prominent people around Motlanthe do not go out to form another ANC off-shoot when the ANC has a difficult election in 2014 to fight.
So Mbalula, Sexwale and the likes will be shown love and told to remain within the party NEC, even as they are being defeated.
In doing so, Motlanthe loses in Mangaung, but remains isolated because his prominent supporters are accommodated.
So Zuma, the tactician, is not just thinking of whether or not victory is certain in Mangaung, he is sharpening his post-Mangaung strategies.
* Makhudu Sefara is editor of The Star. Follow him on Twitter: @Sefara_Mak