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What next for Motlanthe?

by Stephen Grootes, December 19 2012, 16:01
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Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

AFTER the election of President Jacob Zuma for another term as ANC leader, the person who lost that contest, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, now has to consider his own short-term political future.

By Tuesday evening, rumours were already circulating that Motlanthe was preparing to leave his government office "immediately". While those have not turned out to be true, they are a real indication that there is speculation he may feel his position is untenable. While he determines his course of action, there are several issues that could weigh on his decision.

For him to leave government office now could lay him open to criticism that he is behaving in a petulant manner. It can be argued that because he was appointed as deputy president by the leader of the ANC, the organisation he still belongs to, he has a duty to see out his full term. Thus, by stepping down, he would show disrespect to Zuma, and thus to the ANC.

Also, as a loyal ANC cadre, Motlanthe has a duty to ensure that the party appears unified to the nation, following the Mangaung leadership contest. If he left, it would appear that there were divisions. He could also be accused of trying to force the ANC to again live through the drama of losing a deputy president half-way through his term (the first being Zuma himself, who was "relieved of his duties by Thabo Mbeki after the trial of Schabir Shaik).

It could even be that Motlanthe is trying to force an "Mbeki recall" type of scenario, which would plunge the ANC, and the country, into another period of uncertainty.

Motlanthe may also believe that as he is now unlikely to serve in a top public office again, he might as well make the most of it and enjoy the power, and perks, of office until the 2014 elections.

However, several problems may arise, should he stay on.

First, he does not appear to have political legitimacy at the moment. He holds no position in the ANC apart from "member" and "deployed cadre", as he did not make himself available for nomination to the national executive committee. This means he has no political power in the party itself and no voice in the party's upper echelons.

Motlanthe could therefore find himself ordered to implement policies and decisions in government, while having no say in the making of those decisions or policies.

To make matters worse, should Zuma want to take revenge after the ANC leadership race, the president could make Motlanthe’s life difficult in all sorts of ways.

The first would be to make him responsible for difficult and complex problems, while giving him no power to actually solve them. A primary example of this is the decision by the Cabinet, chaired by Zuma, to place Motlanthe in charge of the Gauteng highways ministerial Committee. This means Motlanthe has to find a solution to the highly contentious e-tolling programme for Gauteng's freeways.

Motlanthe could find himself being handed many other such problems over the next few months, should he decide to stay on.

Should the Zuma government become embroiled in new controversies, Motlanthe could find his legacy tarred by them, with no say in how they are resolved. At the same time, should some fresh scandal erupt with which he cannot live, to resign while the Zuma administration is under pressure could send a very different political message.

But Motlanthe appears to want to be seen as a loyal ANC member. This might be the argument that would persuade him to stay on.

• Grootes is an Eyewitness News reporter

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