Kgalema Mot­lanthe hits the sweet spot

Kgalema Mot­lanthe has fi­nally found his groove and is play­ing a more in­flu­en­tial role in our so­ci­ety

Sunday Times - - Front Page - By RANJENI MUNUSAMY

But it helps to have at the helm peo­ple will­ing to take ad­vice and lis­ten to the voices of oth­ers

● At the ANC’s 53rd na­tional con­fer­ence in Man­gaung in 2012, Kgalema Mot­lanthe ran against Ja­cob Zuma for lead­er­ship of the ANC. His­tory could have turned out dif­fer­ently for South Africa had he won and gone on to be elected pres­i­dent.

It is dif­fi­cult to say, how­ever, what kind of pres­i­dent Mot­lanthe would have been had he served a full term in of­fice. It is not in his na­ture to pos­ture or beat his own drum.

It was only last week­end that Mot­lanthe ar­tic­u­lated a vi­sion for the coun­try, not as pres­i­dent but per­haps as “el­der brother pres­i­dent”.

Open­ing his foun­da­tion’s in­clu­sive growth con­fer­ence in the Drak­ens­berg, Mot­lanthe em­pha­sised the need for “col­lab­o­ra­tive thought, ac­tion and in­vest­ment in the ad­vance­ment of our democ­racy, to­wards the oc­ca­sion­ing of a new epoch”.

He said: “Above all else, it is my dis­tinct and sin­cere hope that this con­fer­ence will in­spire us to de­vote our en­er­gies and cre­ative abil­i­ties to­wards bring­ing forth practical ideas that will pro­pel our na­tion for­ward. Through shar­ing ideas, build­ing con­sen­sus and de­vel­op­ing im­ple­mentable ac­tion plans, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with ex­ist­ing ini­tia­tives, we can en­sure that the po­ten­tial and goals of the next decade are met.”

Mot­lanthe has never be­fore de­fined him­self as some­one who could mar­shal so­ci­ety to in­ter­vene to get things right. He has al­ways worked within the

ANC col­lec­tive and was mind­ful not to be seen as am­bi­tious.

He was a rather re­luc­tant can­di­date for the ANC pres­i­dency in 2012, not re­ally in it to win it.

At the Man­gaung con­fer­ence, Mot­lanthe lost the pres­i­dency to Zuma and then de­clined to con­test the po­si­tion of ANC deputy pres­i­dent. He did not want to run against Cyril Ramaphosa, who went on to win the po­si­tion.

In the hurly-burly of South African politics, politi­cians rarely have def­er­ence for one another. But there seems to be a gen­uine affin­ity be­tween Mot­lanthe and Ramaphosa.

This is prob­a­bly due to the fact that they have never com­peted against each other but in­stead have been play­ing a game of tag for around three decades.

Mot­lanthe re­ferred to some of their role-swap­ping his­tory when he in­tro­duced Ramaphosa as the key­note speaker at last week­end’s re­treat in the moun­tains.

Their re­la­tion­ship goes back to 1987 when Mot­lanthe was re­leased from Robben Is­land af­ter a 10-year term. Ramaphosa, then gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Na­tional Union of Minework­ers, hired Mot­lanthe as the union’s ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cer.

When Ramaphosa left the NUM to take up the po­si­tion of ANC sec­re­tary-gen­eral in 1991, Mot­lanthe filled his seat at the union in an act­ing ca­pac­ity. He was later for­mally elected as NUM gen­eral sec­re­tary.

Ramaphosa re­signed as ANC sec­re­tary-gen­eral in Jan­uary 1997 to head for the pri­vate sec­tor. That De­cem­ber, Mot­lanthe was elected ANC sec­re­tary­gen­eral. Ramaphosa re­mained in the ANC na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, re­ceiv­ing the high­est num­ber of votes at the 1997 con­fer­ence.

High-level mu­si­cal chairs

In 2007, at the ANC’s 52nd con­fer­ence in Polok­wane, Mot­lanthe was elected deputy pres­i­dent. Five years later, Ramaphosa joined the Zuma ticket and re­placed Mot­lanthe as the ANC’s sec­ond-in-com­mand.

It is not only in the ANC that the two have been fol­low­ing in each other’s steps. Both stepped up to be­come pres­i­dent when the ANC re­called the in­cum­bents, Thabo Mbeki in 2008 and Zuma in Fe­bru­ary this year.

Mot­lanthe was South Africa’s pres­i­dent from Septem­ber 2008 to May 2009, and then served as deputy pres­i­dent un­til 2014.

Ramaphosa’s as­cent had a more log­i­cal se­quence. He took Mot­lanthe’s place as deputy pres­i­dent in 2014 and was elected as the coun­try’s fifth demo­cratic pres­i­dent four months ago.

From the time he left gov­ern­ment in 2014, Mot­lanthe has kept a low pro­file. The ANC’s un­der­tak­ing that he would be run­ning po­lit­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion in party structures turned out to be an empty prom­ise.

Mot­lanthe has been rest­less about the state of the ANC and the gov­ern­ment for some time. In his sec­re­tary-gen­eral’s re­port at the Polok­wane con­fer­ence, he rang the alarm bells about how fac­tion­al­ism and lead­er­ship con­tes­ta­tion were cor­rod­ing the ANC, and the de­bil­i­tat­ing ef­fect of pa­tron­age on the func­tion­ing of the gov­ern­ment.

“The pos­si­bil­ity of di­vi­sion be­tween elected structures of the move­ment on the one hand, and gov­ern­ment ap­pointees on the other, is very real. The move­ment is then utilised as a power base from which to un­der­mine the ef­fec­tive func­tion­ing of gov­ern­ment, to cre­ate con­di­tions for ac­cess to re­sources for those who per­ceive them­selves to have been excluded. On the other hand, ac­cess to re­sources on the part of cadres de­ployed to gov­ern­ment is utilised through the mech­a­nisms of pa­tron­age to win par­tic­u­lar out­comes within the structures of the move­ment,” Mot­lanthe said in 2007.

The warn­ing went un­heeded and by the time he left the ANC lead­er­ship in 2012, the state had been cap­tured by the Gup­tas and the party was in the grip of the Zuma net­work.

Like many ANC veter­ans, Mot­lanthe be­came alien­ated from the ANC, par­tic­u­larly af­ter ex­press­ing con­cern about cor­rup­tion and im­moral­ity and the move­ment’s state of de­cline.

Mo­tion of no con­fi­dence

In Novem­ber 2015, Zuma taunted Mot­lanthe for his comments that the tri­par­tite alliance was dead and ex­isted in name only.

“I read some­thing in the news­pa­pers where one com­rade, who has been re­spected for a long time, said that the alliance is dead. Peo­ple are ex­pos­ing them­selves that they are po­lit­i­cally bank­rupt. They are now sit­ting at home lonely,” Zuma said at the ANC pro­vin­cial con­fer­ence in KwaZulu-Natal.

He turned the crit­i­cism on Mot­lanthe.

“If the ANC is weak, they weak­ened it when they were in the lead­er­ship of the ANC. Why do they have wis­dom now, when they are sit­ting out there? When they were in­side, we did not see that wis­dom,” Zuma said.

The mes­sage was clear: shut up and stay out of it; the ANC is mine to de­stroy.

In April 2017, I in­ter­viewed Mot­lanthe at his foun­da­tion of­fices in Jo­han­nes­burg. The coun­try was raw and hurt­ing at the time. It was a few days af­ter Ahmed Kathrada’s funeral and Zuma’s mid­night cabi­net reshuf­fle when he fired Pravin Gord­han and Mce­bisi Jonas.

Mot­lanthe had re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion for his eu­logy at the funeral, dur­ing which he read sec­tions of Kathrada’s let­ter to Zuma im­plor­ing him to step down as pres­i­dent.

A mo­tion of no con­fi­dence had been sched­uled against Zuma and ANC MPs were be­ing threat­ened with dis­ci­plinary ac­tion.

Mot­lanthe dared to fly very close to the sun.

He said MPs who voted against Zuma would not be com­mit­ting an act of misconduct in terms of the ANC con­sti­tu­tion.

I asked him if he would have voted in favour of the mo­tion if he were still in par­lia­ment.

“Yes. Yes I would.”

New Dawn, new role

South Africa is another coun­try now and Mot­lanthe has a dif­fer­ent re­la­tion­ship with the serv­ing pres­i­dent. In the New Dawn, Mot­lanthe is able to step up to the role of el­der states­man with­out his suc­ces­sor be­ing threat­ened or re­sent­ful.

Ramaphosa in­stead em­braced the ini­tia­tive by Mot­lanthe’s foun­da­tion to gather to­gether many of the coun­try’s fore­most thought-lead­ers, busi­ness peo­ple, aca­demics, civil so­ci­ety lead­ers and veter­ans to help chart a course out of South Africa’s eco­nomic paral­y­sis.

Speak­ing at the con­fer­ence last Fri­day, Ramaphosa said the fo­rum was im­por­tant and timely to re­alise “the South Africa we dream of”.

He added: “It will not be achieved with­out ap­pro­pri­ate pol­icy choices, ef­fec­tive plan­ning, clear ev­i­dence, sound data and broad col­lab­o­ra­tion. It will not be achieved with­out po­lit­i­cal will, coura­geous lead­er­ship and the mo­bil­i­sa­tion of all so­cial forces be­hind an am­bi­tious pro­gramme of eco­nomic and so­cial trans­for­ma­tion.”

Bet­ter lead­ers at the helm

South Africa had not yet turned the cor­ner, Mot­lanthe said in an in­ter­view dur­ing the Berg gath­er­ing. “But it helps to have at the helm peo­ple will­ing to take ad­vice and lis­ten to the voices of oth­ers.”

Mot­lanthe po­si­tioned his con­fer­ence to delve into the state cap­ture project, which he refers to as “the high-spir­ited mis­chief that oc­ca­sioned the present South African re­al­ity”.

He said: “We needed to un­der­stand the grav­ity of the chal­lenges that we face. That’s why it was nec­es­sary to re­state what has gone wrong, wrap our heads around what needs to be done to move for­ward.”

Tack­ling the dele­git­imi­sa­tion of the state re­quired lead­er­ship as well as “en­sur­ing that wrong­do­ing leads to con­se­quences”, Mot­lanthe said.

“Peo­ple will know and the mes­sage will spread right across so­ci­ety if they see that wrong­do­ing is not coun­te­nanced, it is not go­ing to be tol­er­ated. That in it­self will be a won­der­ful start­ing point.”

Mot­lanthe would like his foun­da­tion to make the in­clu­sive growth con­fer­ence an an­nual event, be­cause he be­lieves the way for South Africa to ex­tri­cate it­self from its present mud­dle is to bring peo­ple to­gether to col­lab­o­rate on a com­mon vi­sion.

“Once peo­ple have the faith that this is our coun­try, this is our econ­omy, we have to make it work; once they have faith that all the ma­jor stake­hold­ers will play their role and put their shoul­ders to the wheel, things will hap­pen.

“I think what Pres­i­dent Ramaphosa has been call­ing for is pre­cisely that peo­ple must come up to the plate. But where there is deep-seated mis­trust among the ma­jor stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing gov­ern­ment it­self, you need the thaw­ing of the ice and that can only be achieved through di­a­logu­ing,” said Mot­lanthe.

A driv­ing force be­hind the work of the foun­da­tion and as­sem­bling of the Berg meet­ing is Mot­lanthe’s wife, Gugu. While he draws peo­ple through his quiet dig­nity and grav­i­tas, she is a vi­va­cious go-get­ter who charms peo­ple into join­ing the cru­sade.

Gugu, who was pre­vi­ously a staffer at the ANC head­quar­ters Luthuli House when Mot­lanthe was sec­re­tary-gen­eral, is a busi­ness­woman and trustee of the Kgalema Mot­lanthe Foun­da­tion. She is all about hands-on ef­fi­ciency and was re­spon­si­ble for putting to­gether the three-day con­fer­ence.

The cou­ple mar­ried in 2014, but she had been a solid force be­side him for sev­eral years be­fore that.

Role for ex-pres­i­dents

South Africa has never re­ally found the right role for its for­mer pres­i­dents. Apartheid South Africa’s last sur­vivor, FW de Klerk, works the speak­ing cir­cuit and in­ter­mit­tently en­ters the na­tional di­a­logue on is­sues af­fect­ing white peo­ple and to crit­i­cise the gov­ern­ment. The hypocrisy of­ten of­fends.

Nel­son Man­dela loomed large af­ter his re­tire­ment be­cause of his iconic sta­tus. Not every­one in the ANC and the gov­ern­ment em­braced this, par­tic­u­larly when he chal­lenged his suc­ces­sor’s Aids pol­icy.

Mbeki with­drew from do­mes­tic af­fairs and bus­ied him­self with in­ter­na­tional duty. His knowl­edge has been lost to the coun­try but he is not amenable to work­ing with a col­lec­tive, par­tic­u­larly when he is not in charge of it.

Zuma is hop­ing to do out­side the gov­ern­ment what he did in­side it: stir chaos and fight le­gal bat­tles.

But the quin­tes­sen­tial gen­tle­man of South African politics has now found his place. A re­luc­tant pres­i­dent, a care­taker who stepped in to steady the ship and grace­fully re­treated to a lesser po­si­tion, a cus­to­dian of demo­cratic val­ues and el­der states­man, Mot­lanthe has now of­fered his shoul­ders for his suc­ces­sor to stand on.

Ramaphosa will know that among his peers and comrades, there is none more de­pend­able than the man who has been walk­ing be­side him for over 30 years.

Pic­tures: Alon Skuy

For­mer pres­i­dent Kgalema Mot­lanthe has long had a strong re­la­tion­ship with Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa, and is build­ing on it to try to help South Africa achieve in­clu­sive growth.

Kgalema Mot­lanthe and his busi­ness­woman wife, Gugu, work as a team at Mot­lanthe’s foun­da­tion in Jo­han­nes­burg.

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