Review: Kgalema Motlanthe- a political biography


Kgalema Motlanthe is arguably one of the most intriguing political figures of this day.

This is mainly due to his somewhat coy stance in the public sphere back from the days when he served as ANC secretary general.

In 2012, Motlanthe was the hottest political topic of the day. Would he contest President Jacob Zuma in the ANC elective conference in Mangaung? That is what I really wanted to know- like many of my colleagues.

So when his highly anticipated biography was published, I flipped through it hoping to find any clues whether he will accept nomination to the ANC presidency.

I, like many other journalists, found nothing.

The political happenings in the run up to Mangaung and afterward was too hot and Motlanthe fell in the shadows.

My first personal encounter with him was after he lost his contest at Mangaung.

He smiled at me and then lifted two fingers which typically depicts the peace sign but in the ANC it showed a support for a second term for Zuma.

After Mangaung, Motlanthe was sidetracked.

Many of my colleagues argue that he was given clean ip tasks in the background of government as he finishes his tenure as deputy president of the republic.

But late last year, I met Motlanthe again. He was mostly silent. I asked a senior leader of the ANC whether Motlanthe spoke at all to which he replied; “when he does speak everyone listens”.

I was intrigued and so when I got my hands on his biography authored by Ebrahim Harvey, I was glad to give it a read.

Harvey starts the book by noting that it is only a political biography of Motlanthe.

Although there are bits of his personal life, Harvey focuses a lot on Motlanthe’s political career.

I found the book easier to read than Cyril Ramaphosa’s biography by Anthony Butler which I abandoned one third in.

What I found significant was that Harvey went so far as portraying matters and issues affecting Motlanthe from other ANC elders perspectives as well.

Part one deals with his formative years and because Motlanthe is such a closed book, it offers rare insight into his oersonal life.

Part two digs deep into Motlanthe’s tenure as secretary general of the ANC up to his appointment to parliament.

Harvey was on point as he discussed the landmark Polokwane conference of the ANC and the significant role Motlanthe played there.

It goes on to discuss former president Thabo Mbeki’s recall from office and Motlanthe’s inauguration as president.

Throughout the book Harvey reminded the reader of Motlanthe’s core demeanor which is one of wisdom and modesty.

He also tries to out forward the deputy president as a sharp witted individual with great political insight.

Motlanthe did not have a “colourful life” in comparison to. For example, Zuma.

He keeps his personal and political life separate so the biography is typically vey straightforward.

This book would be appreciated and enjoyed by people with some sort of knowledge of the South African political landscape.

It focuses diplomatically on the scandals, albeit few,which surrounded Motlanthe’s life as a politician.

Even though in a few months Motlanthe would be out of office as deputy president, the nook is definitely worth the read.

Kgalema Motlanthe: A political biography by Ebrahim Harvey is published by Jacana and is available at all leading book stores.

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