Why Kgalema jumped
Witnessing political suicide is a grim matter, and the just over 4 000 voting delegates in today’s ANC’s plenary know it.
There were no victorious cheers from detractors (who have already proved on the first day of the conference under way in Mangaung that they can be really loud) when it was announced that Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe had withdrawn from the race for his current position in the ANC, even though he stood a chance – albeit a small one – of retaining the post.
Confusion was already palpable when Motlanthe’s name as nominated candidate for deputy president was announced. Some in the massive marquee probably already knew he had withdrawn earlier this morning.
The withdrawal was announced only after the names of Tokyo Sexwale, Mathews Phosa and Cyril Ramaphosa – who received huge cheers and applause and is likely to be a shoo-in – were read out as fellow contenders.
By withdrawing, Motlanthe seems to have acted contrary to his “principled” stance to date of listening to what the branches say. There were enough branches who wanted him to run as deputy president for him to have taken on the challenge.
There were many more who would have voted for him in order to see “unity and continuity” in the party. Even Zuma himself is rumoured to have wanted Motlanthe to stay on as his deputy. So why would Mkhuluwa unilaterally take it upon himself to jump?
It appears that Motlanthe, who has attracted the ire of even his most loyal supporters for being “indecisive” (by, for example, not making it clear whether he’d run for president or deputy or not), has, in the last minutes of his political life on the ANC’s top six, at last grown a spine.
By withdrawing as candidate for deputy president when it was clear that the incumbent Jacob Zuma will pip him to the presidential post, Motlanthe was in effect saying he was prepared to contest Zuma, but not serve under him.
The withdrawal from the floor from the race for deputy secretary-general by Thandi Modise, who was in that position until today, had a similar ring to it.
By the volume of the cheers it was clear that Jessie Duarte would have beaten her to it anyway, but by withdrawing at the last minute and publicly so, she, too, was indicating to the world that she’s not willing to serve under Zuma any longer.
By declining deputy presidential nomination, Motlanthe also showed up the divisions in the “anything but Zuma” camp.
Had he run for deputy president, it was likely that Phosa and Sexwale would have declined nomination so as not to split the anti-Zuma, anti-Ramaphosa vote, and out of deference for Motlanthe, who they support more than Zuma.
With both of them running for deputy president, it is likely that they will be splitting the vote of the already floundering anti-Zuma camp, meaning they have a snowflake’s chance in hell of being elected.
They are probably standing to see which of them can garner the most votes against the other (they are said to have had a fall-out in the past few months), or maybe they wanted to spice up the race for deputy president a bit. Or it could be that they wanted history to record that Ramaphosa was contested.
An interesting aside is that the last time the trio (Phosa, Ramaphosa and Sexwale) were associated with each other, was in 2001 when there were unproven claims by then Safety and Security Minister Steve Tshwete that they were hatching a plot to topple then president Thabo Mbeki.
The claims came with just over a year to go to the party’s 2002 elective congress in Stellenbosch, and although ironic, its unlikely that they have any significance in this particular race.
Save for a backlash (should ANC members take revenge on him for copping out of the top six) Motlanthe is likely to stay on as deputy president of the country until 2014.
It is unclear if Ramaphosa will then step into his place or whether he will broker a deal to take over from Zuma as had been discussed during lobbying and horse-trading. A year-and-a-half can be an eternity in politics.