Monday, March 2, 2009



By S'thembiso Msomi
Mar 02, 2009

"Zuma’s candidacy seems to have divided even ANC supporters"

"The African workers applauded while the rest kept quiet"

IT WAS a question President Kgalema Motlanthe and his entourage would not have expected to be asked at an ANC meeting.

But judging by the nods of approval from many in the crowd when an elderly ANC supporter ambushed him with the question, it is an issue that puzzles even party loyalists — especially in minority communities.

It was Tuesday night at the Gandhi Hall in Lenasia, a predominantly Indian suburb southwest of Johannesburg. Motlanthe had delivered what the elderly supporter, and a number of others who spoke after him, described as a brilliant speech.

The president, who was there in his capacity as the ANC’s deputy president, had the largely Muslim crowd eating out of his hand as he outlined the party’s election manifesto and explained his government’s position on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

An hour and a half into the proceedings, the audience was given the opportunity to ask questions. The elderly man was the first to take the floor and said what seems to be on many middle-class people’s minds.

“I think you should be the president.

“We know the challenges facing current ANC president Jacob Zuma. Why is the ANC hell-bent on putting Zuma in the presidency? I am asking this question with all due respect,” said the man to murmurs of approval from many in the crowd.

But there were others who were not impressed with the question.

As soon as the man took his seat, another party supporter shouted “Viva Jacob Zuma!” — showing his disapproval of the old man’s remarks.

Later, another ANC activist, one of the few Africans present, castigated the elderly man for raising the issue, and attacked other members of the audience who had questioned Motlanthe about the ruling party’s apparent failure to rein in its controversial youth league leader, Julius Malema.

Such questions, said the activist, showed disrespect for the ANC leadership as Motlanthe was not there to talk about Zuma and Malema.

Clapping from the African workers in the audience showed their approval.

Zuma’s candidacy for president seems to have divided even the ruling party’s support base along class and racial lines.

While the working class and poor sections of the ANC electoral base have enthusiastically embraced Zuma as their preferred candidate, its educated and relatively rich supporters are wondering why the party would risk so much in terms of potential votes by pushing for him when it has Motlanthe.

One Lenasia ANC member who spoke to The Times after the meeting said he doubted that Zuma would have been as convincing as Motlanthe on the global economic meltdown and the government’s response to it.

“I have heard Zuma talking about it before on television, but I was not convinced that he understood the magnitude of the crisis,” he said.

“But when President Motlanthe spoke today, I got a sense that not only did he grasp how much trouble we are in, but [that he] also has a plan of how we can get out of it,” said the member, who declined to be named .

He said he was impressed also by Motlanthe’s candid assessment of the weaknesses in the education system and his tough, but not populist, stand against crime.

“He could have easily done a Zuma on us by suggesting to the audience that the ANC and the government were open to a fresh debate on the need for the death penalty. But instead , he chose to explain the ruling party’s position on the matter, despite knowing that many of us here are pro-death penalty,” he added.

When Motlanthe returned to the podium to answer questions, he defended the ANC’s decision to make Zuma its election candidate despite the corruption charges hanging over his head.

“All that exists against JZ are allegations, and for now we proceed with that understanding … he is a very capable leader, and I know, without any doubt in my mind, that he would step down if he thought the interests of the country would be better served by him doing so,” Motlanthe said.

The African working class section of the audience applauded, while the rest sat quietly.

Herein, perhaps, lies the answer to the old man’s question.

Whereas Motlanthe’s urbane leadership style appeals to the middle class and minorities, the ruling party believes it is Zuma’s mass appeal that is needed to win the election.