Provincial support has been garnered as part of a key strategy to win votes at the crucial conference.
Jacob Zuma has relied on a group of staunch supporters in the Cabinet, ANC provincial chairpersons and senior provincial leaders to work the branches and mastermind a successful campaign for his re-election as ANC president in Mangaung later this month.
Zuma's key lobbyists in the Cabinet include Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa, Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga, Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande, Minister of Public Works Thulas Nxesi, Deputy Minister in the Presidency Obed Bapela, Minister of Public Enterprises Malusi Gigaba and Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini. Others are international relations adviser Lindiwe Zulu, ANC national executive committee member Jessie Duarte and Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini.
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At both provincial and regional level, his main lobbyists include ANC KwaZulu-Natal chair Zweli Mkhize, ANC Mpumalanga chair David Mabuza, ANC Free State chair Ace Magashule, ANC North West chair Supra Mahumapelo, Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane, Eastern Cape local government MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane, Limpopo education MEC Dickson Masemola and the suspended ANC Youth League treasurer general, Pule Mabe.
Zuma's victory, however, was not without controversy and there were widespread allegations of vote-rigging and ghost delegates being used to win provincial nomination conferences at all costs.
Mabe said Zuma's campaign had made solid gains because it had a more coherent political strategy than the group supporting Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe to challenge Zuma.
"We told people why it is important for Zuma to continue as president," he said. "We always said this is about a cause – renewal, revival and restoration. We told them we want to renew the ANC to be a rightful leader of society. This was not about unity of individuals, but [of] the organisation, so that the ANC can achieve a better life for all. You can't do that if you are not united. Our perspective will survive even after Mangaung and for the next 100 years."
Zuma is almost certain to be re-elected to the ANC's most powerful position after receiving overwhelming support from the party's branches in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, North West, the Free State, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape.
A key Zuma lobbyist told the Mail & Guardian this week that Zuma's campaign was a success because it resonated with branches as it sought to unite and heal the party after a bruising leadership battle in Polokwane in 2007.
"We agreed on the status quo to retain President Jacob Zuma, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and secretary general Gwede Mantashe," said the campaigner. "We said keep the status quo for the sake of unity and continuity. That was our view [from the beginning]. The ANC imploded in Polokwane and we did not want a repeat of that. We were divided and this led to the formation of Cope [Congress of the People]. We argued that it was too soon to change leadership.
"However, we were disappointed after receiving a message from [Gauteng provincial leader Paul] Mashatile saying that Kgalema will stand and challenge Zuma. We kept hoping that he would not challenge JZ. We only resorted to Cyril [Ramaphosa] as a tactic. We don't want him [Motlanthe] to be president now but in 2017 and to take over as president of the republic in 2019. This will bring stability to the ANC. But he has been misled."
Kebby Maphatsoe, chairperson of the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans, said Zuma lobbyists highlighted things that discredited the pro-change group when they campaigned for the second term.
Allegations of corruption
"We told our members that what the pro-change group was doing was un-ANC," he said. "What made things ... more in our favour is the president's decisiveness on issues of ill discipline. There were people who were consistent, like Lindiwe Zulu, Billy Masetlha and Nathi Mthethwa and, to a certain extent, some provincial chairpersons and secretaries."
Maphatsoe said with every mistake the pro-change group made, Zuma's lobbyists "kept on consolidating political consciousness within branches".
"When Julius [Malema] was insulting the president in the presence of people [such as ANC treasurer] Mathews Phosa and they failed to stand and say not in front of us, we made our people aware of that," he said.
Allegations of corruption in different government departments and municipalities in Limpopo were also used to discredit the pro-change group, said Maphatsoe.
What also disadvantaged the pro-change campaign were disagreements on names for certain positions, such as the split between Phosa and Minister of Human Settlements Tokyo Sexwale for the deputy presidency position.
He also said the pro-change group ran a "premature" campaign.
"These people started their campaign early in 2009 and they got burnt out when we were picking up. Their campaign was not credible because it was made up of ill-disciplined characters."
Although provincial leaders championed the pro-change agenda, Maphatsoe said pro-Zuma lobbyists worked underground.
"We concentrated on provinces where we are strong. Where we were weak we advised our people not to come out in the open 100%, but we worked the branches. In Gauteng, for instance, we knew we wouldn't win so we targeted 40% of the votes. The same with Limpopo, because that was the pro-change group's launching province."
Bapela said the ANC Youth League's call for a generational mix was also "premature". The youth league lobbied for Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula to replace Mantashe as secretary general.
"The issue of generational mix is broader. It is not narrow [as advocated by some in the youth league]," said Bapela.
Although both camps used money to gain support from branches, Zuma's lobbyists claim that his campaign did not have as much money as the pro-Motlanthe group.