ANC leaders ‘unable to maintain non-racial South Africa’

Ex-president Kgalema Motlanthe says party’s MPs do not respect its own constitution

Former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe has given a highly critical assessment of the ruling African National Congress party's current crop of leaders, implying many of them are not fit for purpose.

In an interview published on Monday by BusinessDay newspaper, Mr Motlanthe, who was South Africa's president for seven months after the ANC recalled Thabo Mbeki from office in late 2008, said the party's leaders did not have the ability or consciousness required to maintain a non-racial society.

“If ANC MPs can view the presence of blacks in the Democratic Alliance [main opposition party] as something to be derided . . . then how and when will this non-racialism find expression?” he asked.

In addition, he said the ANC’s internal democracy was impaired. “The point I am making is that the policies are in place, the [ANC] constitution is in place, but if those in power can pick and choose when to adhere, when not to adhere, then we have a very difficult situation,” he said.


Mr Motlanthe contested the ANC’s top job at the party’s elective conference in 2012, when he was its deputy president, but he was defeated in a four-way vote by Jacob Zuma, who secured a second term in office.

He subsequently turned down the opportunity to continue as deputy president, as well as a position in the ANC’s national executive committee, the organisation’s highest decision-making body. He has since reverted to being a rank-and-file member of the former liberation movement.

Regarding his decision to turn down both positions he said: “My sense [at the time] was that I cannot serve in an organisation that does not respect its own constitution . . . I was clear that if I continued serving in that leadership it would be a constant battle just to get them to operate on the basis of the constitution.”

Mr Motlanthe cited the treatment of the party's former youth league leader Julius Malema, who was expelled from the ANC in 2012 having been accused of bringing it into disrepute, as an example of the rise of unethical, factional decision making within the ANC.


When asked about the state of the Tripartite Alliance between the ANC, union federation Cosatu, and the South African Communist Party, which was established in 1990 to oppose white minority rule, he said the coalition of ideologically different organisations was now dead.

“My reading is that there is no alliance, there is one organisation existing inside the integuments of erstwhile independent organisations, but today to talk about Cosatu as an independent organisation from the ANC or the SACP I think is a delusion.”

Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini said in response that Mr Motlanthe was no longer in touch with developments at the federation, while ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe refused to be drawn into an argument with one of his predecessors.

Mr Motlanthe’s comments have placed him in a growing group of disillusioned old-school ANC members who have chosen to speak out publicly against the way the ruling party’s current leadership conducts its business.

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South Africa