Press "Enter" to skip to content

Is Motlanthe in the Eighteen Area?

If recent media speculations are anything to go by, it could be time to bring up to date a line in the song titled Shibobo by “celebrated South African musician” (read soccer player) Benedict McCarthy — a song co-produced with South African kwaito music group TKZee: “Kgalema in the 18 areaaa!” Eighteen yards from the goal posts is the distance from which a shot at goal can be taken with a very good chance of success in a soccer match.

While I was away at a conference in Europe, Deputy President Kgalema Montlanthe decided to visit the township of Nkowa-Nkowa near Tzaneen where he addressed an ANC Youth League centenary celebrations rally. My eventful teens were shared between the townships of Meadowlands (Soweto) and Nkowa-Nkowa near Tzaneen. So I took more than a passing interest in the event at “my township in my stadium, among my people”, to recall the infamous words of one erstwhile homeland leader. Montlanthe was on my stoep!

Incidentally, though born in Alexander, Montlanthe also hails from Meadowlands. According to a vibrant Meadowlands legend, in his younger days our deputy president was a football dribbling wizard with an amazing knack for scoring goals. If he could dribble through a forest of opposition players on the football pitch, he was nevertheless unable to dribble through the tight and vigilant network of the apartheid police and their spies. The latter soon caught up with him and sent him to Robben Island from where he plied his soccer trade for 10 years (1977 to 1987). The police had known for some time what Motlanthe’s Meadowlands soccer fan club hardly suspected, namely that this son of a mineworker was an active member of the banned Umkhonto we Sizwe.

Fast-forward to Saturday September 24 2008. On this day, Kgalema Motlanthe is elected president of South Africa — a post which, for reasons we know all too well, he holds onto for the next eight months. Fast-forward again to Sunday March 25 2012 when the ANC and country’s deputy president walked with ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, Limpopo premier Cassel Mathale and Minister of Sports Fikile Mbalule into a packed Nkowa-Nkowa stadium to thunderous applause.

The picture of Motlanthe, Malema, Mathale and Mbalula walking side by side whilst bathing in the warmth of the adulation of the Limpopo crowds, defiant speeches of Mbalula and Malema, ‘Motlanthe for President’ T-shirts and anti-Zuma songs were enough to make many observers conclude that this was the launch of Motlanthe’s bid for the ANC presidency. But were these sufficient basis upon which to suggest that Motlanthe was throwing his hat into the ring for the country’s top job? If Nkowa-Nkowa was indeed the moment was this the best time and space to launch a bid for the ANC by Motlanthe? More importantly, is Motlanthe truly what the ANC needs?

We should not read too much into who walks with who into lecture halls and/or stadiums, methinks. We should also resist finding people “guilty” for mere sharing of stage with Malema. In the course of performing their duties, holders of political office do not always have either the prerogative or the power to choose whom they share the stage with. The authors of political-rally T-shirt slogans seldom consult with the persons who pictures or names they put on the shirts.

In his own speech, did Motlanthe say anything that suggests that he is launching a bid for the ANC presidency? I am not entirely persuaded. Yes, he did talk about the need of “the youth league to be militant, determined and creative”. Yes, he did suggest that the youth league was autonomous and was free to ‘take your decisions, embark on campaigns, and do as you deem fit’. But he also said that if you go astray, the ANC has a responsibility to “grab you by the ear and we turn it around and we twist it and as you follow the pain, we drag you back into the straight and narrow”. His rebuke for those wearing the “Kgalema for President” T-shirts was as clear as it was firm. “Politically it is incorrect. We must glorify the ANC, we belong to the ANC. We don’t belong to individuals,” he said.

In saying the above, I am not suggesting that I have indisputable proof that Motlanthe has no intention to use his considerable political dribbling to gravitate towards the helm of the party and the country — after all he has tasted the power of the highest office in the land for eight months. Indeed the points I used above to argue how circumspect Motlanthe was at Nkowa-Nkowa could paint the very picture of a man carefully trying to appear reasonable, rational and measured in order to set himself up for the presidency of party and country.

On the other hand if Nkowa-Nkowa was the moment which he chose to show his hand and if what happened and was said there was all part of the rituals of launching his campaign I would question his timing, his campaign strategy and his choice of campaign allies. The angry and bitter contents of the speeches of both Malema and Mbalula would not help his campaign. In a party which has elaborate traditions of campaigning for positions by pretending not to be campaigning; eight months ahead of an elective conference is way too early to launch an election campaign. It is especially too early to launch a campaign against so wily, so canny and so thorough a political opponent as President Jacob Zuma within the context of current ANC politics.

The demise of Malema, while significant for Zuma’s bid for a second term, may not provide enough fuel for the long haul to Mangaung. It could directly and indirectly also signal the beginning of the loosening of Zuma’s grip on the ANC steering wheel — after all, Malema and Zuma were a united team not so long ago. There is growing evidence of growing pockets of dissatisfaction with the leadership of Zuma in certain sections of the ANC. Much of the speculation about Motlanthe’s appetite for the ANC presidency position is less about Motlanthe himself and more of a function of growing sense of unease with Zuma’s leadership in some quarters of the ANC. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on where one stands, the sense of fatigue with the leadership of Zuma remains largely a palace revolt which has not (yet) translated into a popular revolt across the organisation.

But what is the basis of Zuma’s leadership fatigue? It is dissatisfaction with a leadership trajectory that started when Mbeki took the helm and has been continued (rather clumsily most of the times) by the Zuma administration — something I have called, elsewhere, the MbeZuma model of governance and leadership. Can dribbling Motlanthe take Team South Africa beyond the MbeZuma model? Motlanthe has strengths and impeccable credentials, but I have my doubts about his ability to bring a fresh vision and new impetus to country and party. If talks of attempts to woo the likes of Ramaphosa back into the leadership race are anything to go by, then I might not be alone in my doubts. But Ramaphosa has chickened out before, has he not? And Motlanthe would rather coach Bafana Bafana, right?


  • Tinyiko Sam Maluleke is a South African academic (currently attached to the University of South Africa [UNISA]) who suffers from restlessness, intellectual insomnia, insatiable curiosity, a facsination with ideas, a passion for justice, a crazy imagination as well as a big appetite for music, reading and writing. He has lectured briefly at such universities as Hamburg in Germany, Lausanne in Switzerland, University of Nairobi in Kenya and Lund University in Sweden - amongst others.


  1. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 2 April 2012

    I don’t think any of the analysts know who is pals with who in the ANC at the moment.

    But I am happy to bet that none of the factions want Malema. Sexwale and Motlanthe are more likely to be on platforms with him to reign him in as much as possible, even if they are on opposing sides, which no-one knows yet.

  2. nzs nzs 2 April 2012

    So, bottom line is that you do not tell your audience what you think is going on, or who is the stronger and hence more likely-to-emerge candidate (apart from the incomplete indecisive Motlanthe, timid Ramaphosa or inept polygamous buffoon from Nkandla).

    For that, thanks for nothing, Tinyiko!

  3. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 3 April 2012

    @Sam, SA should have party primaries and let the people decide who they want to lead the party instead all of these backroom deals. The system one sees in SA has led to wide spread corruption within the party because the people are paid for their votes. When these same people are appointed to jobs in the government, it’s very difficult for the government to take actions against them for corruption. Therefore, making Motlanthe the head of the party is not going to change anything because he will be controlled by the same corrupted group that put Zuma there.

  4. nhlanhla nhlanhla 3 April 2012

    TM, the Deputy President has sent a clear message here — he is ready to challenge for the top position and he has concluded that Zuma is vulnerable. I agree with you, his choice of his foot soldiers is suspect, but in politics does it matter as principles are usually the first casuality. He might not have come out openly now as he is bidding for time, hoping to catch Zuma off-guard, but I can bet my last rand, the Zuma camp must be watching him closely. 2007 must still be very fresh in Zumas’ strategist to forget that the man who is now an apparent threat to Zuma’s second term ambition, is the same man who sacrificed Mbeki in Polokwane at the alter of exepediency by switching sides to Zuma’s camp, when he was supposed to be the defender of his President as he was the SG of the party.
    The question is — can he pull the same trick twice? Obviously if he succeed, he will be proving your theory here TM of being a wily dribbler in now a political field.

  5. MLH MLH 3 April 2012

    “…the sense of fatigue with the leadership of Zuma remains largely a palace revolt which has not (yet) translated into a popular revolt across the organisation…”

    The organisation seems to be a bit slow; it has certainly translated into deep dissatisfaction across the country, from those who don’t vote for the ANC and some who do (note service delivery protests).
    While Motlanthe appeared to be a steadying influence in his presidential role, we all knew he was merely keeping the seat warm and perhaps he was acting on orders not to make waves.
    I am not sure he distinguished himself and there was that nasty little incident of unpaid rental. Now his ‘squeeze’ is in the hot seat and taking him on would be like another escapade into Zuma territory: who knows what will come of that investigation? It would be good had SA learnt to get the day in court over before suggesting an unknown force for president. These things come back to bite us.
    Saddest of all is the fact that there appears not to be another worthwhile option…can one worthy really not be found in the great and growing ANC membership?

  6. Policat Policat 3 April 2012

    Judging by reports in the media, government and opposition parties reactions to which we outsiders are beholden for information it is becoming evident that there is serious dissention within the ANC regarding the outcome to this presidential race.
    Is it my imagination but are we also observing a breakdown of loyalty and respect by ANC members for its vision, charter and traditions? Open criticism by party members of each other and the nature of the palpable arrogance that goes with it, is surely a sign of disunity, the lack of basic respect for each other and the mistrust from within its ranks.
    It is my hope that the outcome of Mangaung does not precipitate the country into the bizarre heap of failed governments so commonly found in the rest of the world. We deserve better.
    “All politicians by the pure nature of their work should be well supervised.”

  7. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 3 April 2012

    Are the dissentions in the ANC about economic policy or about personalities? I suspect the former.

  8. Benzo Benzo 3 April 2012

    @Lyndall: ….economic policy or about personalities?.

    The ANC -as a political party- cannot have a clear economic policy as long as the economically impossible alliance remains in place.
    Economic policies are about trade, industry and money in a consensus context. Cosatu and the CP are about the power of labour.

    The top of the ANC is about money and power in an almost dictatorial way while rying to maintain the struggle buddies atmosphere through cadre deployment with less importance given to competency than to trade, industry and money.

    The dilemma for the ANC is that giving up the alliance, they loose the majority and the power associated with it.

    The benefit for the country? Economic debates would move to parliament. The arguments for economic (and other) legislation would be for all to see for all to see in Parliament, whatever the different representations would be.

    The first true democracy on the African continent???

  9. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 4 April 2012

    @Beddy, the ANC convention that will be held in SA in December will be be full of corruption and kingmakers selling themselves to the highest bidder. Chickane talks about this in book how corrupted the last ANC convention was that elected Zuma as the head of the ANC. This system was used in the US with widespread corruption by the delegates at the conventions. This is why the parties have primaries to try to stop all of this buying and selling of delegates. What you will see is a bunch of kingmakers making decisions about the future of a country and the will not have a slightest clue what’s going on. I think Sam next article should be about corruption at the ANC convention and call for party primaries.

  10. Andile Mncube Andile Mncube 4 April 2012

    First I would like to agree with NZS#, the say that your piece is suggestive of something which must worry us that there are growing concerns of lack of confidence on the current president on one hand and the lack of a credible opponent to challenge the incumbent in the succession battle.
    You do not dismiss candidacy credentials, you merely question their capability t bring about a fresh approach to what we are used to. Kind of Remind me of Gumede and Dikeni’s ” Poverty of Ideas”, 2009
    Let me say that this leaves me with even more anxiety, and I believe many do, to the fac that we might not see a new style of leadership in government within the next decade.

  11. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 4 April 2012


    The American perpetual primaries and electioneering and idol making contests are very expensive and time consuming and have to be paid for by some-one, plus the government never has any time to govern.

    Africa should have stuck with the Prime Minister system of the British and the French.

  12. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 4 April 2012

    @Beddy, on the other hand the people in SA have no voice in the government in the making of the president. The president is made by kingmakers and not by the people the government is supposed to serve. Democracy is supposed to be for the people and by the people which is not the case in SA. Many of those kingmakers have been involved in stealing money from the government and Zuma is not able to touch them, because they controlled delegates to the convention in December.

  13. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 5 April 2012


    The President is merely the figurehead – the ANC is a collective, which had little problem with getting rid of the previous figurehead Mbeki.

    America’s president is like a feudal king – we don’t need any more feudalism in Africa, thank you.

  14. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 5 April 2012


    Plus in Africa, and South Africa, we have MANY tribes, not just 2 tribes like in America (Republicans and Democrats)

    In South Africa the main tribes are:

    Whites – English speaking (British descended) and Afrikaans speaking (Dutch descended) – who have totally different cultures and values.

    Blacks – Xhosa and Zulu (and a number of minor tribes), who were in a tribal war when the whites arrived, and went back into another in the townships from the 1980s to 1999.

    Browns- mainly Muslim Malay descendents, and Christian Khoi descendents.

    NOTHING like America’s uniformity of tribe and culture.

  15. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 5 April 2012

    @Beddy, the president in the US can’t spend money unless congress approves it. The president has to buy his food while serving in the White house and can’t use state money to make improvement to his home. Base on what I am reading about Malema the ANC is not a collective like you described. When the president in the US appoints someone to a position Congress has to confirm this person.

Leave a Reply