Interim president Kgalema Motlanthe, a simple replacement or more ?

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The new president of South Africa will be elected at a parliamentary sitting in Cape Town on Thursday. The ANC elected party deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe to be the acting president until the elections early next year.

People have seen Motlanthe as a possible presidential candidate for five years or more, ever since there were fears that ANC President Jacob Zuma could be crippled by the fraud and corruption charges being prepared against him.

Once he was elected as Zuma’s deputy at Polokwane last December he was canvassed so often as a likely candidate if Zuma disappeared into a legal pothole, that he seemed to come to believe it himself.

He was deployed to Parliament to serve in the Mbeki cabinet to act as a bridge between the outgoing government and the one coming in. He was given the job of minister in the presidency, and took over from former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka in the task of leading the government’s Parliamentary business.

Although he nailed his colours to the star of Zuma, he has been described as an independent thinker who is not afraid to speak his mind.

But who is this man ?

Born in 1949, the youngest of 13 children, Motlanthe was early on influenced by the revolutionary ideologies of the Black Consciousness Movement of Steve Biko. Like true liberation hero’s he was detained by the apartheid government in 1977 at the age of 28, the year after the Soweto uprising.

In 1967 he had been detained for 11 months for pursuing the aims of the liberation movement African National Congress. He was later sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on Robben Island.

Shortly after his release he followed Cyril Ramaphosa as secretary- general of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Ramaphosa became secretary-general of the ANC but in 1997, disappointed by the succession of Mbeki, Ramaphosa retired from politics. Kgalema was elected in his place.

In last year’s bitter ANC succession battle, Motlanthe featured on the lists of both Mbeki and Zuma supporters for a position in the top six to be elected at the party’s conference in Polokwane.

South Africans vie his political style as ponderous, and many describe him as a non-charismatic speaker, although he has a gently humorous turn of phrase, but is also known for his lengthy speeches.

But no man is without controversy. Some controversy arose in his career when his name came up in allegations that the ANC received financial aid from the Iraqi government when the party found itself in a financial bind.

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