Motlanthe – A principled leader we were not ready for

22 September 2019

Why Kgalema is a president we all didn’t deserve… and one the ANC was not ready for

At the end of what was to be my last interview with Kgalema Motlanthe just ahead of the ANC conference in Mangaung in 2012, I put my notebook aside and asked: “Why did you frustrate your supporters?”

His smile was mirthless. I explained further: “You took too long before telling your supporters that you were available for election [as ANC president to contest against then president Jacob Zuma] and you didn’t seem to want to partake in the campaign for your election – why?”

Kgalema’s answer was not anything I expected but certainly something I thought didn’t make much sense. But that answer hit me with a thud this Thursday at a gala dinner Motlanthe hosted as part of his work to help the youth through the Kgalema Motlanthe Foundation.

Justice and correctional services minister Ronald Lamola spoke about his frustration, along with a handful of his comrades who had organised in Tzaneen, Limpopo, what he thought would be Motlanthe’s campaign launch to take over the ANC pres­idency. Lamola told attendees that he and his comrades were very angry at Motlanthe because the latter chas­tised them openly for printing T-shirts emblazoned with his face on them, declaring “Motlanthe for President”.

A former colleague of mine, Moffet Mofokeng, wrote that story for Sunday Independent, which informed my ques­tion to Motlanthe later. His response to me was that he spent a large part of his time as the ANC secretary-general cautioning against behaviour that threat­ened the continued existence of the ANC and, as a consequence, couldn’t use the same methods to elevate himself to the highest position in the ANC. He cautioned against the terrible influence of funds for elections, how the funds are sourced and the influence of those who provide such funds on the winning can­didate. As you may expect, I retorted that the ANC of yonder has changed and his competitor Zuma was not shy in using the methods Kgalema wished not to use.

The diplomat he is, he did not wish to comment on how JZ was running his campaign, which was a thing to behold, and said what other people did was not sufficient motivation to do wrong things. After the meeting, I told his then spokes­person Thabo Masebe, who organised the interview, that his leader was bound to lose in Mangaung and we would be sad­dled with an even longer period of mis­rule by JZ, who was already neck-deep into state capture before the phrase be­came en vogue.

When Cyril Ramaphosa emerged years later to do what Motlanthe was not prepared to do, it was clear he would dis­lodge Zuma and his misrule. The ground was fertile. CR was prepared to throw funds at his supporters. He even, strange­ly, opened bank accounts when others were using money bags. Many became excited that he was a man who is not steeped in Motlanthe’s idealistic world. A pragmatist with a solution. The messiah!

Zuma, who had reduced our country to a laughing stock, will be consigned to history – if not prison for the many alle­gations of fraud and corruption he faced.

The damage Zuma unleashed on various fronts ran deep. The SABC, for example, was led by a buffoon called Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who calls himself a “lecturer” – to Wits University’s cha­grin. The public broadcaster now needs R3.2bn to recover from the misrule.

Eskom, the power behind our nation, is on its knees and its rolling conservative­ly estimated R450bn debt is threatening to collapse the economy. And such is the fate of many other state-owned enterpris­es, with some now failing to pay salaries.

And so Ramaphosa, supported by myriad business people in his well-fund­ed ANC campaign, was thought to be the solution that Motlanthe failed to be. How wrong we were.

Motlanthe is a president we all didn’t deserve. He was too principled for every­body’s liking. He wanted to be ANC pres­ident without Lamola and other ANC Youth League leaders doing wrong things.

He chastised them in front of the media for putting his face on T-shirts. He refused, Masebe told me later, to appoint a money-man to fundraise for him.

Those who wanted to vote for him should do so without getting illicit funds – in the same way Nelson Mandela was voted into power. And today Rama­phosa wants to tell us about a return to Mandela’s values when his own elevation was anything but Mandela-like.

Motlanthe, not so much through his words, but through his actions showed us what it means to be a true, principled leader. The ANC and the country must appreciate Motlanthe – he’s the last true leader the party ever had.

That he was not made ANC president means the ANC was not ready. It didn’t deserve him. It deserves the money-bag men in whose hands it is now implod­ing with a president and secretary-gen­eral whose agendas are diametrically opposed. Zuma used money to unseat Thabo Mbeki; Ramaphosa used money to unseat Zuma. Motlanthe would have none of it. That is priceless. He’d rather not be ANC president. He’d rather lose than be a leader propped up by white monopoly capital he’s unable to speak back at. Are you with me, CR?



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