Zwelinzima Vavi is emerging as a dark horse for a senior ANC leadership position in the run-up to ruling party’s next elective conference this December in Mangaung.
Stopping short of actually throwing his hat into the ring in the run-up to the ruling party’s next elective conference in Mangaung this December, Vavi is positioning himself as the focal point for change in the ANC.
"He realises change needs to come. He backed Zuma in Polokwane but he believes he hasn’t seen any tangible results. He now either has the option of backing someone else again or going it alone," an ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) member told the Mail & Guardian on condition of anonymity on Sunday.
In a week of barnstorming speeches, Vavi repeatedly called for a change in the current trajectory of the ANC, claiming the ruling party "didn't care anymore".
"We can't go to that [Mangaung] conference only worried about who will be president and deputy president. Political issues must be dealt with for a better future," Vavi told delegates at the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (Saccawu) bargaining conference in Centurion on Wednesday.
Vavi then followed this up with a call for the tripartite alliance to "prepare for battle" at the weekend.
"If the ANC were to collapse due to infighting or a failed revolution, it would shatter the dreams of the working class. Let us use our provincial and national congresses to forge policies and programmes of action which will arm us for the battles ahead," Vavi said on Saturday, at a regional Cosatu conference in Emalahleni, Mpumalanga.
These latest statements add to the rumours that Vavi is seen as a point man for the call for change in the party and that he is being lined up for a senior ANC position in the near future.
Officially though, Vavi is distancing himself from these rumours.
"No, I am not campaigning. If I was, then I wouldn’t be pushing for re-election within Cosatu," Vavi told the M&G on Sunday.
Earlier in 2012, Vavi stated he would be available to be re-elected as the trade federation’s secretary general, but did not completely rule out ever taking up a senior ANC position in the future.
"I think at some point Vavi has to weigh up his options and decide where to next. If that is Mangaung or the next ANC elective conference is unclear," Adam Habib, political commentator at the University of Johannesburg told the M&G.
However, Habib said that while a lot of names will be mentioned as possible members of an ANC leadership slate in the run-up to Mangaung, Vavi would be hesitant to take up any position that is "honourific".
"If the political climate does not afford him the opportunity to be offered something solid – as in something in the top three – I wouldn't see it happening," he added.
Habib said that Vavi may see himself as being more use outside of the ANC's formal leadership – as a kingmaker, rather.
"He's played a phenomenal role in South African politics. If the ANC were a bit savvier, they'd appreciate the legitimacy Vavi has offered the ruling party by being so vocal. If he were silent, there would be a perception the only people opposed to corruption are the media, civil society and opposition parties," he said.
'Rid of the old man'
Nonetheless, there are suggestions that a push for Vavi to enter the race for a senior ANC position would receive traction from the ANC Youth League.
A well-placed source on the league’s national executive committee – who requested anonymity – told the M&G that while Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe remained the Young Lions' first choice to replace Zuma at Mangaung, Vavi would receive their support if he was in the running.
"If he's serious and he can take on JZ then we can do it. The important thing is to get rid of the old man – that's it," the source said.
Meanwhile, Motlanthe has discounted a Sunday Times article claiming he rejected the proposition of remaining deputy president if Zuma was not challenged in Mangaung.
"We have not said anything about any apparent proposal. All we have said is that branches start the nomination process and he won’t engage in any campaigning," Thabo Masebe, Motlanthe’s spokesperson told the M&G.
Masebe added that Motlanthe would be guided by the people in the next role he fulfills in the ANC.
"The deputy president can’t go to the people and say he’s available for this and that, it’s for them to decide," he said.
Thus with Motlanthe yet to fully emerge as a contender in the race to Mangaung, that might just provide the space for Vavi to muscle in as either a potential kingmaker or quite possibly in to the higher echelons of ruling party leadership himself.