The smart money is still on ANC president Jacob Zuma being re-elected at the Mangaung conference next month, writes Matuma Letsoalo.
This is despite preliminary figures showing that deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe is doing well in five of the nine ANC provinces.
So far, more than 65% of the ANC branches across South Africa have completed their nominations. Branches have been given until the end of November to complete nominations. Allegations of vote-rigging, fraud and intimidation have marred the party's nomination process.
The spin doctors of camps for and against Zuma have been hard at work. Conflicting statistics that showed their candidate was leading makes caution advisable when reading the released figures.
According to preliminary nominations figures that ANC members supplied to the Mail & Guardian this week, Motlanthe enjoys support in Limpopo, the Western Cape, the Northern Cape, Gauteng, North West and the Eastern Cape. But a prominent Zuma lobbyist insisted this week that the incumbent was ahead in all the provinces.
Figures also reveal that Zuma has made significant advances in provinces known to be hostile to him, such as Limpopo and Gauteng. Both the provincial executive committees have publicly expressed their unhappiness with Zuma's leadership style. They made it clear that they preferred Motlanthe to replace him as party leader at the ANC's national conference next month.
However, it appears not all branches agree with their provincial executive committees. So far, Zuma has managed to secure nomination in more than 140 branches in Limpopo out of the 380 that have completed their nominations. In Gauteng, 136 branches out of 315 that have held their branch general meetings nominated Zuma. The president has also made inroads in the Northern Cape and North West and, although the process is incomplete, he enjoys more than 45% of support in both provinces.
Overwhelming support for Zuma
However, the Eastern Cape is proving to be difficult for Zuma, despite the fact that he has invested a lot of energy there in the past few months. So far, he has only managed a slight win in the Chris Hani region, which is home to his ally, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe. He also enjoys support in the Joe Gqabi region. But Motlanthe has support in Nelson Mandela (30 nominations out of 35 branch general meetings), Sarah Baartman, (96%), Alfred Nzo (50 branches out of 95), OR Tambo (121 out of 176 branches) and Buffalo City (eight out of 15).
Zuma's supporters believe that his strong presence in almost all provinces will give him the advantage. In provinces where he is strong, such as KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State and Mpumalanga, Zuma has overwhelming support, whereas Motlanthe's majority in the other provinces is marginal.
KwaZulu-Natal is expected to bring a quarter of the delegates to the Mangaung conference.
The anti-Zuma group claims that they have also made advances in his strongholds. They claim they have secured 70 branches for Motlanthe in KwaZulu-Natal. They are also claiming 95 branches in Mpumalanga and 70 in the Free State.
"We were told we can't get anything in KwaZulu-Natal, but it looks like the province is fracturing," said one ANC leader. "There are serious tensions in eThekwini, which is the biggest region there. There are a number of branches in Ukhahlamba and the lower South Coast that prefers Motlanthe over Zuma. The situation is not good for him at all. It is not good for the incumbent not to have an anchor province."
But the Zuma lobbyist claimed they were winning all the provinces. "In Limpopo we are winning by more than 30 branches. In Gauteng, JZ has 163 and KG [Motlanthe] has 144. Zuma supporters claimed they were winning all the provinces," he said. "In Limpopo we are winning by more than 30 branches and in Gauteng JZ has 163 and KG has 144. These people must not believe in themselves because they are going to be shocked."
Although Zuma's camp believes it has larger numbers, Motlanthe's supporters have argued that he was enjoying support from the majority of provinces, which would be a psychological boost.
"If more than half of the country says no to Zuma, it would put a lot of pressure on him," said the pro-Motlanthe ANC leader. "It might create serious problems for his campaign. It's a psychological blow."
A Gauteng provincial executive committee member believes Motlanthe will emerge victorious. "Gauteng is likely to nominate four deputy presidents: Tokyo Sexwale, Mathews Phosa, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Motlanthe. We are also likely to nominate Fikile Mbalula, Joel Netshitenzhe and Mantashe for the position of secretary general. Slates are dead. Kgalema has succeeded in killing the politics of slates.
"We are going to see a lot of horse-trading days before the conference starts. KwaZulu-Natal is using [premier] Zweli Mkhize [for the position of treasurer] as a bargain ticket. The pro-Zuma camp in Limpopo wants [deputy minister of correctional services Ngoako] Ramatlhodi in the top six, Free State wants [premier] Ace Magashule to take over as ANC chairperson and Gauteng wants Paul Mashatile as treasurer."