Motlanthe declares war for ANC leadership


A BRUISING ANC leadership battle is on the cards with South Africa's Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe going ahead with the challenge against both President Jacob Zuma and businessman Cyril Ramaphosa.

Expectations of a last-minute deal to avert a contest were dashed as the respective camps hardened attitudes and prepared for battle - when the 53rd ANC national congress starts today.

The Sunday Times has learnt that Motlanthe held a private meeting with Ramaphosa at his official residence, OR Tambo House, in Pretoria on Tuesday.

Although it could not be established who initiated the meeting, close friends of the two men in the trade union movement say the meeting was about their nomination for ANC positions. Ramaphosa is understood to have asked Motlanthe not to contest against Zuma. In turn, the businessman pledged not to run for the ANC deputy presidency.

However, according to sources who spoke to the Sunday Times on condition of anonymity, Motlanthe maintained his long-held position that his political future will be decided by delegates. Also at the meeting was former National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) president James Motlatsi - a common friend of the two former general secretaries of NUM.

Motlanthe's acceptance of nominations for the positions of president, deputy president and as an additional member of the national executive committee (NEC) on Thursday was interpreted as a "declaration of war" by the Zuma camp.

"This man [Motlanthe] has declared war. There will be no deal," said a Zuma lobbyist who has been actively working on the campaign.

As delegates were arriving in Mangaung for the conference yesterday, it emerged that National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel - who has served in the ANC NEC since the ruling party's unbanning - had declined nomination to serve in the structure.

His spokesman, Dumisa Jele, said: "The minister has decided to decline the NEC nomination. He feels that he has been there for years and that it's time for others to make a contribution."

ANC national chairwoman Baleka Mbete also declined nomination for the deputy presidency and chose to accept nomination to retain her current post.

Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula accepted nomination for secretary-general and will challenge the incumbent Gwede Mantashe. Mbalula has turned down the proposal that he contest the position of deputy secretary-general.

Cosatu boss Zwelinzima Vavi also declined nomination to serve in the NEC.

Yesterday morning the ANC's NEC meeting had to adjourn as leaders awaited legal advice on the eligibility of the Free State delegation to participate in the congress. This was after the Constitutional Court ruled that the Free State provincial executive committee (PEC) was illegally constituted.

The NEC yesterday disbanded the PEC in line with the court ruling but were now awaiting advice on whether the rest of the 324 Free State delegates should be allowed to vote.

At the same time, conference preparations were nearly thrown into disarray when the University of the Free State threatened to throw out the ANC after it failed to pay upfront for the conference venue and accommodation for delegates.

But after much scramble, including a meeting with the university management, the ANC settled its bill, understood to be R14-million, on Friday afternoon.

As it became clear that an all-out contest was on the cards, the anti-Zuma grouping, the so-called Forces for Change, met last night to iron out their own differences, amid fears that their split preferences on candidates could weaken their campaign.

This happened as it became clear that both ANC treasurer Mathews Phosa and Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale have accepted nominations for the deputy president's position. Another hurdle in their campaign is Motlanthe's acceptance of nomination for the same position.

Sexwale lobbyists believe that Phosa does not have the numbers and that Motlanthe will not want him to deputise him. A senior campaigner in Phosa's camp said the group wanted to persuade Sexwale to withdraw from the deputy presidency race.

"We are meeting tonight [Saturday]. We want him [Sexwale] to withdraw the nomination [for deputy presidency]. This has caused problems. If he contests, he is going to divide our vote," he said.

Meanwhile, Zuma appears to be readying himself for a future with Ramaphosa as his deputy.

Last week he told the London-based Daily Telegraph: "It would not be the first time I worked with Cyril Ramaphosa. When he was the secretary-general, I was his deputy. So it would not be the first time, if he is elected."

Zuma lobbyists said the president became increasingly uncomfortable with Motlanthe after the latter attended a youth league rally in Nkowankowa, Limpopo, in March, where the league and its allies openly attacked ANC leaders.

Efforts to get hold of Ramaphosa failed.