This was a tricky year for Kgalema Motlanthe, who had to work with President Jacob Zuma, although it was clear they were always set to go head to head for the ANC`s leadership. But the two behaved like gentlemen, hiding any public discomfort with each other.
This changed in October when they both attended a function to pay homage to former ANC president Oliver Tambo at Johannesburg`s international airport. Only Motlanthe had been billed to attend, creating the impression that Zuma had planned to steal Motlanthe`s limelight.
Zuma this year charged Motlanthe with co-ordinating the political processes and challenges that arose from opposition to e-tolling on Gauteng`s highways. Although it appeared that Zuma was presenting Motlanthe with a poisoned chalice, it was a necessary move – the transport department and South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) mishandled the tolling issue and the government was forced to put the plan on hold after a court interdict.
The government`s poor handling of the situation resulted mainly from a fight between the department and Sanral, which led to the resignation of Nazir Alli, the Sanral boss.
E-tolling was supposed to have been operational by April 30 this year, but the squabble also led to delays in its implementation and a failure to submit the necessary legislation to Parliament to implement it.
The treasury was the first to raise the alarm about the paralysis, because Sanral would not be able to pay its creditors. This led to the establishment of the interministerial task team headed by Motlanthe.
First he recalled Alli and prepared a proper legal case, leading to a victory in the Constitutional Court. The task team then continued with consultations on the project.
But all the work was undone when Parliament could not be persuaded to table the Bill before the end of the year, which would have allowed the government to proceed with the implementation of the e-tolls.
Meanwhile, Cosatu has vowed to force the government to abandon the plan.
Motlanthe`s other responsibilities relate to the fight against HIV/Aids. He heads the South African National Aids Council, which was expanded this year and the place where the government and civil society have long found common ground. Government officials even boast that because of their success in this field, civil society organisations turned their focus to education and, for example, the non-delivery of textbooks.
Motlanthe`s style is to keep a low profile, but there were times after several crises when some wished he would state his views plainly. There was even greater frustration in the ANC with his supporters wanting him to state whether he would stand against Zuma or not.