South Africa’s Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe ruled himself out as a rival candidate to President Jacob Zuma, who is losing support from labor unions and the African National Congress’s Youth League.
Motlanthe, who served as president for eight months after Thabo Mbeki was ousted in September 2008, said in an interview with Andrea Catherwood on Bloomberg TV’s “The Pulse” in London today that he would be better placed as an adviser.
The comments come as Zuma faces a leadership test at a key ANC policy conference next week. Labor unions and the Youth League are pushing for more state control in the economy, including nationalizing the country’s mines. They have also criticized a business transaction by ArcerlorMittal South Africa Ltd. that benefited Zuma’s son Duduzane.
“If it’s not Motlanthe, then we have a real contest on our hands” for the presidency, said Nic Borain, an independent political analyst in Cape Town. “However, the candidates themselves are seldom able to make the decision themselves. There are very few people who have managed to refuse” when elected into official ANC positions.
Motlanthe, 61, said he would dissuade the ruling ANC from choosing him as a candidate at a national conference in 2012, when the party will choose a new leader or renew Zuma’s mandate.
“I’ve been there,” said Motlanthe, who is also deputy president of the ANC. “I think I can add value to those who take that office. I don’t think I’d want to go back to that office.”
Motlanthe was a compromise candidate when he was named by the ANC to replace Mbeki, appealing to both Zuma’s labor and communist allies and Mbeki loyalists.
Born in Alexandra township in Johannesburg, Motlanthe was recruited to the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, in the 1970s, later working to smuggle ANC fighters across the borders. He spent 10 years in jail on Robben Island after his arrest in 1977 following a student uprising in Soweto against white minority rule.
After his release, he became a labor unionist and was appointed secretary-general of the National Union of Mineworkers in 1992. During that time, he helped negotiate higher wages for miners and set up the Mineworkers Investment Company.
In 1997, Motlanthe was elected for the first of two five-year terms as secretary-general of the ANC, serving under Mbeki.