the wizard rises above

Eric Naki

Eric Naki

It is difficult not to feel the presence of Kgalema Motlanthe when he is around you.

The new ANC deputy president is a respectable man whom you cannot ignore when he passes by you or is in the same room as you.

The altar boy that he was at the Anglican Church of the Resurrection at Meadowland's Zone 7 in his youth provided the perfect grounding to groom a man who has the dignity of a priest more than that of a leftist politician.

Until a few months before the ANC national conference in Polokwane last month, he commanded loyalty from the opposing camps of the organisation. It is no wonder that prior to him choosing to be in the Jacob Zuma camp, he was the subject of a tug-of-war between the two groups, with the Thabo Mbeki side nominating him for the position of national chairman.

When he announced that he was interested in the deputy president position or remaining in his then secretary-general post, he threw himself into the arms of Zuma's leftist backers in Cosatu, the SACP and the ANC Youth League.

It was then that the cynicism towards him began.

Those who knew this former midfielder from Soweto's Spa Sporting in Meadowlands and the then Pretoria Spa Sporting, said the Mbeki supporters he dummied never got the best of the dribbling wizard.

Like he did with his opponents on the soccer pitch, Kgalema "The Wizard" Motlanthe as fans called him, left the Mbeki supporters kicking dust.

No doubt, this former trade unionist, unlike Zuma, is presidential material. Mkhuluwa - meaning big brother - as he is affectionately known to his comrades, has no skeletons in his cupboard.

"He is a person of wisdom and dignity. He definitely has leadership qualities and can handle difficult situations. He has what it takes and on top of that ANC members across the board respect him," says Susan Booysen, political analyst from Wits University.

But there is something worrying though. Should the ANC sacrifice a woman deputy president in the form of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in order to accommodate Motlanthe?

Should this happen, the organisation would be undoing one of its crucial achievements - the elevation of women to senior positions. Such a move would be a mockery of the ANC's own gender policy and its resolution to have a 50-50 male-female representation at all levels of the party.

In fact, this would reinforce the belief that Zuma and his allies are hellbent on undermining womenfolk, considering their reluctance to nominate a woman into the party presidency in Limpopo, preferring instead to have Baleka Mbete fill the less influential national chairman's post.

Forcing Motlanthe, who is unemployed after being elected from a full-time secretary-general position to the non-paying deputy presidency of the party, would itself force a constitutional amendment to create two deputy presidential posts.

Shadrack Gutto, Unisa-based constitutional expert, says the constitution provides for one deputy at present and to amend it to provide for two deputy presidents would create tensions within the presidency.

"The ANC has given the country enough tensions and the people surely do not need more. There will be questions about what is the purpose of the present deputy president, who will feel marginalised should a second president be appointed," says Gutto.

The most debilitating effect of having Motlanthe as Mbeki's deputy would be to undermine Mbeki himself. In bulldozing for his appointment, the ANC will be indirectly telling Mbeki that "we do not want you, here is the real president, we got our Mkhuluwa to watch you".

As someone directly deployed by Luthuli House, he won't only be checking on Mbeki, but will also be ensuring that Zuma's interests and those of his allies are served at the Union Buildings. He will be Mbeki's Orwellian big brother.

But there is another easy way that Motlanthe could be brought into the government - by appointing him into the cabinet, a scenario that some within the Zuma camp favour. The constitution's section 91 (3) (c) allows the president to appoint no more than two ministers outside the National Assembly.

But still, this would be difficult for some Zuma die-hard supporters who want him in the presidency, not as a minister.

"It could be good, for the sake of integrity of government and continuity, to suspend the current arrangement and open space for a person of Motlanthe's calibre to bridge the gap among the ANC's components.

"I think a good case can be made for him to move in. Phumzile [Mlambo-Ngcuka] is a wise enough leader to understand that there is a need for such an arrangement. She may be willing to step aside in a symbolical way to give way for Motlanthe," says Booysen.

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa questioned the rush to appoint Motlanthe to a government post, saying while there is a need for a cabinet reshuffle the ANC could have waited until the case against Zuma is finished.

"The ANC fairytale of unity in its ranks is believed by nobody. Already there is an unseemly rush on the part of Motlanthe to be deployed to cabinet, straight into the deputy presidency if he has his way. To some it seems he is very anxious to prove his 'presidential' capabilities.

"Could it be that now that they have used Zuma's popularity to gain access to the levers of power, his new-found friends will step over him to grab total power for themselves?" asks Holomisa.

Considering the views expressed by these experts and Holomisa, the question is will Motlanthe dribble his way to Mahlambandlopfu (the president's official residence), giving both Mbeki and Zuma a dummy? One thing is for sure, "The Wizard" is on the way to the top.