Calls for ANC unity and fears of lingering animosity were heard following the election of Jacob Zuma and the party's senior leadership at Mangaung.
Delegates split neatly into two camps, with a 75% majority of roughly 3 000 voting for Zuma as president, Cyril Ramaphosa as deputy president, Baleka Mbete as national chairperson, Gwede Mantashe as secretary general and Zweli Mkhize as treasurer general.
Jessie Duarte, also on the Zuma slate, was elected unopposed as deputy secretary general.
Just over 900 delegates consistently voted for the "change" candidates led by Kgalema Motlanthe, who got marginally more than the rest of the slate with 991.
Mathews Phosa and Tokyo Sexwale split the opposition camp cleanly in the race for deputy president, with 470 and 463 respectively, while Thandi Modise for national chair and Fikile Mbalula for secretary general both came in around the 900 vote mark.
Zuma himself called for unity immediately after the vote.
"Once elections have taken place, we are all [bound] by the outcomes. We have to look at how we treat each other. We don't want comrades to feel after this that they are outside the ANC. I don't think we must continue to say things which make other comrades uncomfortable," Zuma said.
'There will be purges'
Away from the plenary tent, however, delegates and lobbyists from both sides were discussing the fallout.
"What will happen is what always happens", said one Western Cape lobbyist supportive of Zuma. "There will be purges".
People associated with the Motlanthe campaign said he would struggle to stay in government, either because he now found the contradiction between Zuma's leadership and his own beliefs impossible to live with, or because the president wanted him out.
Zuma insiders have told the M&G over the past fortnight that the president is furious with his rival, and wants him out.
Others on both sides made a point of sounding more conciliatory. "There is no reason for him to go", a cabinet minister sympathetic to Zuma said of Motlanthe.
Public service minister Lindiwe Sisulu also stressed unity. "It is of paramount importance for our future," she told the M&G.
Sisulu – who declined a nomination to run for party treasurer general – said she has every confidence in the newly elected office bearers of the ANC and argued that losing candidates would not be left in the cold.
"If people who were voted out of the ANC had no future in the movement, we would have been greatly depleted by now," she said.
"Of course they have [a] future in the ANC; and the message we are sending after this election is one of unity."
Sisulu also said the ANC should work quickly after its Mangaung conference to deliver on all its promises of a better life for all.
"We have completed 18 years of democracy and are two years away from twenty tears into our freedom – we no longer have an excuse," she said.
Gauteng chairperson Paul Mashatile, who lost the contest for the party's treasurer general, also called on ANC members to accept the results.
"What we need to do is to put our support behind the new leadership. It is not that our campaign went wrong. The delegates decided, and we can't take away their rights to do so," he said.
Asked if he was worried about being sacked as minister of arts and culture, Mashatile said while it's up to Zuma to decide on his future he doubted the president would act that way.
He added that the ANC should avoid a situation where losers at conferences start campaigning for the next conference immediately after their defeat.