KGALEMA Motlanthe has ruled out any "deals" to secure himself a leadership position at the African National Congress (ANC) conference in Mangaung, but his " principled" stance could see him lose out in the jockeying to lead the party for the next five years.
With President Jacob Zuma almost certain to be returned as ANC president, enjoying the support of at least five provinces and two ANC leagues, the deputy presidency has now emerged as the focus of fierce contestation.
The frontrunner, businessman Cyril Ramaphosa, has the support of powerful provinces, but Mr Motlanthe’s nomination by Gauteng and the ANC Youth League means he will also have significant backing at Mangaung should he accept a nomination.
In a wide-ranging interview with Business Day on Friday, Mr Motlanthe played his cards close to his chest and emphasised party principles. He said he would not be part of pre-conference wheeling and dealing, as that took power away from the branches, which should be allowed to express their will without interference.
He has, however, downplayed the significance of his name coming up in provincial nomination gatherings, saying the process so far was merely an expression of a preference and did not constitute an official nomination. He said he would answer the question of his availability when it was put to him by the electoral commission, but it was not a "difficult" decision.
While Mr Motlanthe’s intentions may remain obscure for now, he is in no doubt that Mangaung, as he said recently, represents a "tipping point" for the ANC and its allies for whom he had pointed criticism. This ranged from taking issue with the ANC allies’ compromised elections procedures, which saw incumbents returned to office without facing electoral contests, to the party’s fading nonracial credentials, its diminishing appeal across the board in South Africa, and a "growing intolerance" within the alliance.
The ANC needed to come up with policies and implementation plans, coupled with a "well-balanced" team of leaders not driven by the need for job security in its approach to leadership.
His call for renewal contrasts starkly with the standpoint of Mr Zuma, who on Sunday insisted there should be "good reasons" for changing the leadership.
Speaking in KwaZulu-Natal on Sunday, Mr Zuma said those who wanted change should explain what was wrong within the ANC and what the reforms could be.
Mr Motlanthe criticised how ANC allies have handled their elections, where leadership teams were returned through consensus, thus avoiding elections.
A leader who was elected in an environment of pre-conference dealing was bound to be beholden to the power brokers, he said.
This year’s elections within the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the South African Communist Party (SACP ) were the result of pre-conference arrangements. Mr Motlanthe warned that the trend could play itself out in Mangaung too.
Cosatu leaders recently said they wanted to talk Mr Motlanthe out of standing against Mr Zuma for the party’s leadership.
"They are perfectly within their rights to offer me such advice — but they should also give me advice as to how I can give effect to such advice in terms of the ANC procedures," he said.
Mr Motlanthe disapproved of the SACP’s handling of its elections, as part of a broader loss of appetite for elections.
"The fact that you hear noises from time to time saying ‘you mustn’t stand, you mustn’t do this’ and so on — there is no appetite for elections. Elections in an organisation are an instrument for strengthening an organisation, not weakening it — but that’s only when it works and people accept it," he said.
"At (the SACP) conference now the central committee consists of 62 members and all nine provinces nominated the same 62, which means there was no need for elections. That influence played itself out at the Cosatu conference. It is that same influence that is going to play itself out in the ANC at Mangaung."
Mr Motlanthe said he would not be part of such arrangements as the branches must not be interfered with.
"I don’t want to lead an organisation where I have no sense of what the members think of me — and by arrangement. I would never do that. Once it’s interfered with, if I offer them sweeteners or jobs, I would never actually know whether they have confidence in me or not."
Branch delegates were not "messengers or conduits" and needed to be given room to play their role, Mr Motlanthe said.
He also warned that the ANC risked losing its relevance due to inward-looking leadership, while the whole tripartite alliance faced stagnation because of growing intolerance. "I don’t think the alliance is about to split at all — but there are signs that indicate a measure of intolerance."
He said t he different components needed diverse views.
"Once there is a monopoly, even in the realm of ideas, that can only lead to stagnation. We are beginning to see that in Cosatu — that’s a federation that consists of independent trade unions and those affiliates have to be boiling cauldrons of debate."
Mr Motlanthe was also critical of the SACP’s contribution to the alliance, saying it no longer dealt with cadreship development as it once did.
"The SACP’s contribution in the radicalisation of the national liberation movement, the ANC included, has always been in training cadreship — (it) always paid attention to cadre development. I don’t know whether the party now does that."
The ANC was losing its grip on nonracialism and no longer saw itself as a leader of a nonracial society, he said. The ANC’s reliance on its majority in Parliament — instead of the power of its argument — was one of the factors that would compromise its relevance, he warned. For example, the ANC caucus initially pushed back a recent opposition-led move to debate a motion of no confidence in Mr Zuma.
The ANC could end up alienating minorities if it "doesn’t pay attention to the arguments, but simply relies on numbers". "When that happens, all other sections of South Africa’s population … who believe, ‘in this forum we will be outnumbered by those people’ … hear one message and that is that they stand no chance … so as the ruling party if you do that you undermine the other task of uniting people."
He said there was "no need whatsoever" for the matter of the no-confidence motion to end up in court.