DEPUTY President Kgalema Motlanthe's campaign for the ANC leadership kicked off in earnest yesterday as he shared a platform with party treasurer Mathews Phosa and Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale at the birthplace of late ANC leader OR Tambo.
Motlanthe's attendance of the ANC Youth League's rally in Bizana, Eastern Cape could be interpreted as a clear indication of his intention to challenge President Jacob Zuma in Mangaung next month.
Sexwale and Phosa are known Zuma detractors and they, alongside Motlanthe, feature on the list of proposed ANC top officials by the so-called Anyone But Zuma grouping.
Motlanthe addressed a rally at the same stadium and town where Zuma held his own last weekend - albeit with a much bigger crowd this time. The youth league pulled out all the stops to ensure that their rally surpassed Zuma's, in terms of mobilisation and planning, even bringing in artists to entertain their crowds.
Tambo's daughter Tselane also accompanied Motlanthe on his visit to Nkantolo village earlier yesterday, where the late ANC president was born. For the league this was a significant coup as none of Tambo's children were part of Zuma's visit last weekend. Motlanthe, accompanied by Phosa and youth league leaders led by their deputy president Ronald Lamola, visited Tambo's sister Gertrude where a breakfast of freshly slaughtered sheep was served.
As if to erase Zuma's footprints, Motlanthe followed the same trail as the president last week and also went to view the graves of Tambo's parents at the OR Tambo Garden of Remembrance in the same village.
Motlanthe said there was nothing peculiar about his absence during Zuma's visit as he had been "deployed" to the opening of the OR Tambo National Heritage Site in Boksburg. He said he did not regard the absence of the Eastern Cape ANC leadership - who had accompanied Zuma last week - as a snub, as yesterday's event was organised by the league.
With 42 days to the much anticipated ANC's 53rd national congress in Mangaung, Motlanthe's posture in recent days has boosted the morale of the so-called Anyone But Zuma grouping. His interview with the Financial Times, published last week, has been widely circulated, with the anti-Zuma grouping paying particular attention to Motlanthe's comments about the need for change in the ANC.
"There is no doubt about it that we need renewal or we're going south. (the Mangaung conference) will represent a tipping point depending on what happens," Motlanthe was quoted as saying.
It is these very comments that seem to have riled Zuma, who retorted that Motlanthe should not "exaggerate" problems within the ruling party.
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe sent Motlanthe to Boksburg instead of Bizana, despite the league's request last weekend.
He opted to send Zuma to a rally organised by the ANC in the Eastern Cape in Bizana last Sunday.
The league interpreted this as deliberate sabotage by Mantashe - who stands to retain his position on the Zuma grouping's leadership slate.