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Talking in riddles

The next president of the country is hard to pin down on any policy, much less those related to ICT.
Read time 4min 30sec

The next president of SA will not be Jacob Zuma.

There, I've said it. After being at the Polokwane ANC conference, it amazes me that people can be so easily fooled into looking in the wrong direction - the oldest trick in the book for any good magician.

Everyone is morbidly feeding off the increasingly bloody war between president Thabo Mbeki and ANC president Jacob Zuma. However, no one seems to be keeping an eye on the man who is being groomed to step into the space being created by the proverbial machinegun-touting JZ - Kgalema Motlanthe.

The newly-elected vice-president of the ruling party, and its previous secretary-general, is playing a masterful game: align yourself with the people that are in favour at the moment and wait for them to trip up before magically sliding into the space left open. Most importantly, people should never see you coming, unless they are the ones that are going to get you where you want to be.

And make no mistake, Motlanthe is a very, very smart man.

Sitting in a jam-packed press briefing on one of the first days of the Polokwane conference, I saw for myself how Motlanthe can pull the wool over hundreds of people's eyes. Pushed on issues of rivalry and clashes within the party, he was a textbook politician (magician?) in managing to answer all the questions directed at him without actually saying anything meaningful.

One journalist turned to me in frustration and said: "He doesn't talk in circles, he talks in riddles." This went a long way towards allaying my fear that I was in fact the only journalist in a group of more than a 100 local and international pressmen that didn't understand a word that was being said.

Giving away the game

How do I know Motlanthe is the man to become the country's next president? Ground-level support, political analysts' comments, economic analysts' comments, logic. Motlanthe himself, ironically, gave away his strategy (albeit in riddle-form) when answering a question on why Zuma should be supported if there are fraud charges pending against him.

Quoting the example of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, he said "if you have a popular leader" who is accused of wrongdoing, you cannot act in a "knee-jerk fashion. Given time, they will expose themselves; you can only act once the people have called for it. By not acting [immediately] you are sustaining unity."

And there the plot is revealed: let people accuse Zuma of whatever they want; Motlanthe will stay in the background until the Zulu warrior falls and only then act, otherwise he is seen to be divisive. Brilliant really.

Policy matters

How does all of this relate to ICT?

The newly-elected vice-president of the ruling party, and its previous secretary general, is playing a masterful game.

Christelle du Toit, senior journalist, ITWeb

In the ANC's current economic policy documents, ICT is identified as a key enabler of the economy, one that has to work more effectively to improve the lives of the impoverished masses. This can, however, be interpreted in many ways. Does it mean we fire the incumbent minister of communications and get someone with actual ICT knowledge in her place that can introduce real competition in an open-market environment? Or does it mean the state makes demands on foreign investors that they have to give away BEE equity in order to invest billions? Or that they need to have a local partner in order to bring us international connectivity via undersea cable projects?

Having mastered the art of being noticed and pushing my way into an opportunity to ask a question to this effect of Motlanthe, at the press conference in question, I was left rather dazed and confused as to where he stands policy-wise.

First he insisted that "policy will not change" if the leadership of the ANC changes. According to Motlanthe: "There have been many challenges in the history of the ANC, some ideological. These are not ideological differences, they are differences in personalities. The ANC is broad-based and the policies are determined by the people. The policy will stay in place and continue to be developed."

However, pushed upon how policies are to be interpreted and implemented, Motlanthe acceded that "there may be different emphasis [on different polices] if people change. There will always be uniform interpretation; the challenge is in implementing the policy."

He did not expand on this point.

The magician's cloak, therefore, continues to conceal whether the enigmatic leader would see ICT issues, or any others for that matter, be "emphasised" in the new ANC era.

Indications are though that "the ANC has much bigger fish to fry at the moment" (as one analyst put it). He was referring to the ruling party's need to consolidate and bring together a tremendously diverse party and alliance. For the moment then, ICT issues will continue as they have to date (for better or worse), but keep an eye on the magician and any slight of hand that may reveal his plans for the future.

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