Respected one will lead all the people

He is known as "Mkhuluwa" in the ranks of the mass democratic movement.

He is known as "Mkhuluwa" in the ranks of the mass democratic movement.

New South African President Kgalema Motlanthe is a left-leaning intellectual who is respected across the political spectrum.

Motlanthe's close associates describe him as a reserved and intelligent man who is a party stalwart but not an ideologue.

What draws people to Motlanthe - including members of the Fourth Estate - is the air of serenity about him and the rapport he has with people in general.

Those outside the ANC also regard him as an independent thinker and level-headed individual who, for example, has had the guts to stand up to the virulent ANC Youth League leadership under its motor-mouth president Julius Malema.

Motlanthe and Malema have been at loggerheads over criticism of some of the statements the league has made. The most infamous of these was the "We will kill for Zuma" statement made by the garrulous Malema.

But this week the ANCYL endorsed Motlanthe's candidacy as the country's president.

"We come a long way with Kgalema Motlanthe ... and we are convinced that he is the best of the best," Malema said.

Motlanthe has also shown himself to be a man of compromise, who is able to douse the raging fires of division within the ANC.

When former Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool - a well-known Thabo Mbeki supporter - was fired by the new ANC leadership, Motlanthe spotted a possible danger to the party in the province. He moved to neutralise it by appointing Rasool as his adviser.

As far back as 2005 Jacob Zuma supporters in the ANC started hinting at the possibility of Motlanthe being a compromise candidate for the presidency.

There were fears that ANC president Zuma could be weighed down by the corruption and fraud charges when he succeeded former president Thabo Mbeki in 2009.

In the two years since, as Zuma's star rose, so did Motlanthe's. Some observers believe he was strategically elected Zuma's deputy in Polokwane last year. They argue that the move was to ensure that in case Zuma had to hand over the reins it had to be someone as trustworthy as Motlanthe.

Yesterday Motlanthe moved into those big shoes to hold the fort until Zuma takes over next year.

Motlanthe, 58, is the youngest of 13 children born of a farmworker family in the Bela-Bela area, Limpopo. Like many leaders in the ANC, his early political influence was the revolutionary ideologies of the Black Consciousness Movement of the late Steve Bantubonke Biko.

Motlanthe was detained for 11 months in 1976 for taking part in the student uprisings. A year later he was sentenced to 10 years on Robben Island.

This is where he came under the political tutelage of ANC leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu.

On his release he joined the trade union movement. He succeeded Cyril Ramaphosa as general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers in 1992. He also succeeded Ramaphosa as the ANC secretary-general in 1997.

Motlanthe was elected ANC deputy president in 2007, beating the Mbeki camp's choice, Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Earlier this year Motlanthe was deployed to parliament to serve in Mbeki's cabinet to act as a bridge between the government and Luthuli House.

Mbeki appointed him as a Minister in the Presidency. He took over from former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka as leader of government business in Parliament. This was a position held by Zuma before Mbeki fired him as his deputy.

The challenge for Motlanthe is that he takes over the country's reins at the most tumultuous time in SA's post-apartheid history.

It is at a time when his party is ravaged by the worst kind of political fissures and when the poor are losing patience with the ANC government.

Despite all these impediments, South Africa can take solace from the fact that Motlanthe seems to be the right candidate to steer the country through the maelstrom.

DA leader Hellen Zille said Motlanthe's appointment offered hope to South Africa.

"If any member of the new ANC leadership can govern in the best interest of South Africa, rather than in the narrow interests of a cabal within the ANC, it's him," Zille said.

Indeed, Motlanthe's track record shows that he could be the glue that holds the centre together.

He has the ability to appease all the important stakeholders - including the unions, the Zuma and Mbeki camps, foreign investors, the middle class and the poor.