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Sunday Times STLive By S'THEMBISO MSOMI, 2012-02-12

Motlanthe walks on eggs - as always


Image: Elmond Jiyane

According to Wikileaks, Julius Malema once told US government officials that Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe was a "brilliant" leader, but that his problem was that "you can't understand anything he says".

Good journalism demands that we treat all Wikileaks claims with healthy suspicion, as they are difficult to verify.

But there were moments during Motlanthe's address to the ANC Youth League national executive committee lekgotla on Friday when one wondered if Malema and his comrades were not confused by what their preferred presidential candidate in the forthcoming ANC elections was saying.

Particularly when, in a bid to explain the complicated relationship between the ANC and its youth wing, Motlanthe resorted to an analogy that involved eggshells and embryos.

The youth league was obviously making a political statement by allowing Motlanthe's address to the lekgotla to be open to the media, while the other ANC leaders who attended the meeting, including secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, spoke only behind closed doors.

It is an open secret that the league wants Motlanthe to take over from President Jacob Zuma as party leader in December. But anyone looking for signs that Motlanthe does or does not support the league's campaign would have been disappointed.

In typical Motlanthe style, he steered clear of the succession debate and avoided saying anything that would have been construed as him lobbying for votes.

If anything, he used the fact that league leaders - who are at war with the rest of Luthuli House - still respect his word to drive home some home truths to Julius and his comrades.

He was firm in rejecting the league's assertion that, as a separate body, it had the right to take whatever decisions it chose, even if these were in conflict with those of the ANC.

The league might be autonomous, Motlanthe said, but was certainly not independent from the ANC.

But while Malema and his comrades may not have been happy with Motlanthe's insistence that the ANC was supreme, they would have rejoiced at his statement encouraging the organisation to remain "radical" and "question" the rationale of mother body decisions.

He also had some useful advice for the league if it wants to remain influential within the ANC, warning Malema and his comrades against being "intoxicated by past victories to such an extent that you think you can change the world just by wishing".

To be successful, he told the meeting, the league would have to be more organised.

In the context of the ongoing ANC battle, Motlanthe could be understood to be telling the league that unless its members are better organised within the ruling party, they should forget about bringing about any change at the next conference.

As they return to their provinces today, the delegates to the lekgotla will be no wiser as to whether their preferred candidate backs their campaign. But that is why some in the ANC find Motlanthe so appealing: he never steps out of the party discipline line.