... if SA had US-style polls

Businessman and former Gauteng premier Tokyo Sexwale was made for US politics.

He has all the qualities that would make him do well in a direct presidential election.

As a multi-billionaire he would be able to finance a sleek presidential campaign with a lot of the campaign finances used to build a strong media profile.

Unlike most leaders of the ANC, he loves the media and the camera loves him, hence he was voted one of the sexiest men in this country.

More importantly, he knows how to play the fourth estate on matters trivial and important. How many ANC leaders would jump at the chance of hosting radio talk shows on three different radio stations - and run a provincial government at the same time?

How many of them would host a reality television show and invite Top Billing cameras and the viewers of this celebration of opulence into their homes?

There is no prize for guessing that he is unique among ANC leaders in displaying very low levels of discomfort towards the media.

The usual presidential succession suspects, such as Cyril Ramaphosa, Kgalema Motlhante, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Jacob Zuma and Thabo Mbeki, if he decides he must succeed himself, are probably thanking our political gods for not imposing US-style presidential elections on us because Sexwale would have been the man to beat.

But this is not the US and the voters do not elect their president. The ANC, with its colossal dominance over the political landscape, will once again bless the country with a head of state in 2009. Who it is will be decided either at the party's national conference in December or in the list process for the 2009 general elections.

Though I was surprised to read about meetings that Sexwale has reportedly held with senior ANC leaders, I was not surprised by the denial, peppered with phrases such as "spurious", "red herring" and "disdain", by Sexwale's doctor of spin, Chris Vick.

The timing of the reports was, however, surprising because the launch of anyone's candidacy so early might focus the attention of potential opponents on him in a way that might be prejudicial to his ambitions.

The possibility, therefore, is that Sexwale is not behind reports about him meeting ANC luminaries about the succession and that he has not held such meetings.

But we must be open to the possibility that in denying that the meetings took place, he is simply denying that they were held with the people mentioned in the newspaper articles.

If the meetings did take place, with either the people mentioned by the Sunday Times - or with others, who were lucky to escape the attention of those who have made it their business to leak information to newspapers - Sexwale would be well advised to read Shakespeare, particularly Julius Caesar.

The play is, among other things, a lesson about flatterers, knives and backs. Sexwale's denial is probably in recognition of this Shakespearian lesson about how people might meet him to encourage him to enter the presidential race when in fact they want to draw him out with the aim of eliminating him from the presidential contest.

The denial might also be about respecting ANC traditions and processes, and not a statement of disinterest.

Sexwale is aware that he must respond to nominations by ANC structures when the time comes and not to speculation by the media and political analysts.

In the ANC people have no political ambitions to be president and it is not something they think about until it is invented by the media and political analysts, or until party structures stimulate their ambition to serve party and nation selflessly. No ANC member wants to fall foul of this tradition and risk being torpedoed out of the race before the party leaders fire the starting gun.

By the same token, Sexwale seems to understand that tradition in the ANC is important and that one of the requirements for success in the succession battle is the reality of respecting traditions that have been 95 years in the making.

l Aubrey Matshiqi is a politicalanalyst.