Difficult job well done

On September 25 last year, Chief Justice Pius Langa swore in ANC vice-president Kgalema Motlanthe as the third post-apartheid president of South Africa.

On September 25 last year, Chief Justice Pius Langa swore in ANC vice-president Kgalema Motlanthe as the third post-apartheid president of South Africa.

Motlanthe had become the country's first citizen after the ANC recalled Thabo Mbeki.

Motlanthe's presidency was largely welcomed by most sectors of the society, including business leaders and opposition parties.

The DA described the election of Motlanthe as caretaker president as "the best scenario".

His unique advantage, given the tension within the ruling party, was his popularity among both supporters of ANC president Jacob Zuma and Mbeki's.

Essentially, Motlanthe was a caretaker president to ensure a smooth transition from Mbeki's rule to Zuma's takeover after today's election.

Motlanthe captured this in his maiden state of the nation address in February.

"I have had to occupy the highest office in the land as a consequence of the unique circumstance arising out of the decision of the leading party in government to recall the former president," he said.

"That we were able five months ago to ensure a seamless transition and continuity in the systems of government is thanks to the maturity of our constitutional system ... and the steady hand of our public sector managers."

Motlanthe also gave the assurance that his administration would not deviate from existing ANC policies.

The fact that he retained most of the cabinet ministers who served under Mbeki and only replaced those who had left in solidarity with the former president was also a clear indication that Motlanthe was there "to keep the seat warm for Zuma".

His retention of Finance Minister Trevor Manuel - who has been broadly applauded for the strong hand he has held over the country's finances - was also an indication that Motlanthe had no intention of unnecessarily rocking the boat.

Political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi believes that given the political scenario, Motlanthe's performance as a president cannot be objectively appraised.

"His job was to manage the transition from Mbeki to Zuma and can therefore not be assessed on his performance as a president."

Another political analyst, Kwandile Kondlo, believes that Motlanthe has lived up to hisreputation as someone who is above the ANC's factionalism.

"He has acquitted himself as a statesman who has floated above the internal tensions within the ANC."

Centre for Policy Studies head Steven Friedman also believes that Motlanthe was hamstrung by the conditions under which he became president.

These included the fact that he was expected by the ANC - especially Zuma supporters - not to act "too presidential".

"He was essentially there to warm the seat for Zuma," says Friedman.

Friedman, however, believes that in some instances Motlanthe had risen to the occasion to show that "his constituency was South Africa, not the ANC".

Such instances include, for example, his refusal to sign into law the broadcast bill - which would have given Parliament (essentially the ruling party) the power to fire the SABC board - arguing that the bill could have been regarded as unconstitutional.