Opposing President Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe supporters faced off at the ANC policy conference in Midrand on Thursday in the first open electioneering in the run up to the ruling party's elective conference in Mangaung this December.
Although nuanced, the opposing factions sang songs and gestured at one another at the close of sectoral policy commissions.
Matters came to a head during Motlanthe's walk through the conference's progressive business forum.
While at the Africa Rainbow Minerals stall, Motlanthe was met by a group of pro-Zuma members.
Marching past the deputy dresident, the roughly 50-strong crowd sang "uZuma yo siVuma iSecond-Transition" (Zuma will take us to the second transition).
While initially bemused by the spectacle, Motlanthe was quickly escorted to the VIP area.
Once the group moved to the back of the hall, Motlanthe exited and was welcomed by a small group of his own supporters outside the venue.
He passed them as they sang "Siyaya noKgalema" (We are going with Kgalema).
As Motlanthe moved towards the dining hall, Zuma supporters exited the commissions venue and intercepted the Motlanthe faction.
Both sang opposing songs and gestured at one another.
Zuma supporters thrust their hands in the air with two fingers raised – signifying their call for a second term for the incumbent.
The Motlanthe group met their gestures with arms raised, rolling their hands – a sign indicating their call for a substitution in leadership.
Downplaying the issue
Both factions were dominated by delegates from different provinces and representatives from all of the ruling party's leagues.
The stand-off could be interpreted as the first crack in the ANC's attempt to silence the succession debate.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe ruled out any discussions on the matter until October but the incident is reminiscent of events leading up to the 2007 Polokwane elective conference when Zuma took power.
The ANC downplayed the issue.
"We will not comment as most events have had … songs. A comment would indicate a cynicism in rival politics. People are trying to air whatever views they have through songs and that is an age old tradition," ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza said.