THE African National Congress (ANC) is set for a senior leadership tussle in Mangaung next week, with Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe taking on President Jacob Zuma for the party’s top position.
Thabo Masebe, spokesman for Mr Motlanthe, confirmed on Thursday that the politician had accepted a nomination to run for the position.
Mr Motlanthe also accepted a nomination to run for deputy president — his current position in the party.
That means the ANC is set for a longer election process in the event that Mr Motlanthe loses in the presidential run-off against Mr Zuma. He would then stand again for the deputy presidency. Nominees can stand for as many positions as they are nominated.
Mr Motlanthe was nominated by three ANC provinces — Gauteng, the Western Cape and Limpopo — as well as the ANC Youth League to replace Mr Zuma.
While Mr Motlanthe appears to be following a principle of serving in any position that branches vote him into, his bet-hedging could be a problem. If he loses in the presidential contest, the dominant branches may be upset that he stood against Mr Zuma and vote for Cyril Ramphosa instead for the deputy president position.
On the other hand, Mr Motlanthe's approach will give the Zuma camp a few headaches. If they are dominant in Mangaung and do not vote for Mr Motlanthe for the deputy presidency, they may be seen as spiteful.
The ANC may also be hugely divided after the election. Mr Zuma seems to enjoy the support of most of the 4,500 voting delegates.
The Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans’ Association has warned that Mr Motlanthe will not be accommodated by the Zuma camp, for having accepted the nomination for the presidency. The association does not have voting rights but is an influential lobby group, and has backed Mr Zuma's second-term bid.
Chairman Kebby Maphatsoe said: "We withdraw our support for him. We don't want him ... he is not a messiah,"
The veterans’ association initially wanted Mr Motlanthe to retain his number-two position. " I must say he has disappointed us," said Mr Maphatsoe.
No wheeling and dealing
In a wide-ranging interview with Business Day last month, Mr Motlanthe emphasised party principles and said he would not be part of pre-conference wheeling and dealing on leadership, as that took power away from the branches, which should be allowed to express their will without interference.
Becoming leader of the ANC means a nearly automatic ticket to becoming the president of South Africa.
Mr Motlanthe’s acceptance of his nominations will provide an opportunity for Mr Ramaphosa to stand for deputy president against Mathews Phosa and Tokyo Sexwale.
The nomination of Mr Phosa, who is the ANC’s treasurer, and Mr Sexwale, who is human settlements minister, could hand Mr Ramaphosa the advantage as the two are backed by the same “forces of change” camp.
If their supporters do not strike a deal before Sunday, their votes may be split.
Mr Phosa confirmed on Wednesday that he would stand for deputy president. “I abide by the call of the branches,” he said.
While there was no obvious indication of Mr Ramaphosa’s intentions, a national executive committee (NEC) member said: “Who doesn’t like power? He has been eyeing a senior position for a while.”
With Sapa-AP, Natasha Marrian, Sam Mkokeli and Setumo Stone