Meet Motlanthe, independent thinker

The name of ANC general secretary Kgalema Motlanthe has been thrown into the hat in the ANC succession debate as a compromise candidate.

The name of ANC general secretary Kgalema Motlanthe has been thrown into the hat in the ANC succession debate as a compromise candidate.

Motlanthe is not a man of many words.

With his white goatee, Motlanthe exudes an air of serenity normally associated with sages.

He normally shows composure even under the glare of sometimes hostile media spotlights. His responses to probing questions are usually meticulously calculated.

The most important question is whether he has the support within the ANC and among the alliance members necessary for him to win the most coveted position in the country - the presidency of the ANC and eventually of the country.

His decorum aside, Motlanthe is respected in the ANC and in the ANC-SACP-Cosatu alliance as an independent thinker.

He has shown his independence by being the only ANC leader who publicly came out in support of the beleaguered ANC deputy president, Jacob Zuma.

He came out against the Scorpions, accusing the elite crime-busting unit of "Hollywood-type investigations and arrests" aimed at disgracing public figures.

At the 2005 meeting of the ANC's general council, Motlanthe presented a scathing report in which he blamed the sorry state of decay in the ANC on the "cancer of moral decay occasioned by the struggle for control of, and access to, resources".

He went on to say that this decay was at all levels of the government and affected both the new and old cadres of the ANC.

Motlanthe also has struggle kudos. He led the National Union of Mineworkers in the late 1980s after succeeding Cyril Ramaphosa.

He was elected general secretary of the ANC in 1997, a position he has held since.

Motlanthe is believed to be the preferred compromise candidate of the labour movement, the Communist Party and the ANC Youth League.

These parties apparently see him as the most suitable candidate in the event that their idol, Zuma, withdraws from the presidential race.

Zuma himself is said to be comfortable with Motlanthe. He is known to want Motlanthe as his deputy if he emerges as the ANC's new president.

There are, however, two fronts on which Motlanthe could be lacking.

Firstly, there is the issue of his experience in government.

Unlike some of the individuals whose names have been bandied around, Motlanthe has never been part of a new democratically elected government. He has remained a party operative.

Secondly, there is the issue of his international profile and acceptability.

Though he has credible struggle credentials, Motlanthe does not have much of an international political profile.

Ideally, these deficits should not be seen as shortcomings, given the role that Motlanthe has played in the struggle for liberation and his display of leadership within the ANC.

But, given the pedestal on which the international community has put the new South Africa and its government, they could be a hindrance to Motlanthe ascending to power.