Matuma Letsoalo & Charles Molele profile the frontrunners for the coveted position of ANC deputy president, for which Cyril Ramaphosa, Kgalema Motlanthe, Tokyo Sexwale and Mathews Phosa are the leading contenders
The outrage over the email exchange among businessperson Cyril Ramaphosa, Lonmin management and the ministers for mineral resources and police the day before the Marikana massacre in August has not dented his support among those who believe he should be ANC deputy president if the incumbent, Kgalema Motlanthe, rules himself out. In the email Ramaphosa urged strong action against protesting mine workers at the Lonmin mine.
But his numerous political opponents are baying for his blood. In the one email, which was presented to the Farlam commission earlier this week, the former National Union of Mineworkers [NUM] boss strongly condemned the behaviour of the miners and suggested "concomitant action".
Workers' lawyer, advocate Dali Mpofu, who introduced the emails as evidence at the commission, said Ramaphosa had called for action to deal with "the criminals whose crime was to seek a wage increase".
The anger over the emails is based on perceptions that the exchanges portray Ramaphosa as a businessperson who cares less about the interests of the workers than about making profits.
On Wednesday, the ANC Youth League and its expelled president, Julius Malema, and his group of "economic freedom fighters" called for Ramaphosa's immediate arrest.
The emails are likely to fuel perceptions that black economic empowerment beneficiaries are being used by big capital to influence the behaviour of the ANC and the government.
He is favoured by the pro-President Jacob Zuma camp for the position of ANC deputy president in the event that deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe decides to challenge Zuma for the party's top job.
Ramaphosa has been nominated for the post by several branches in KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State, Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape.
In August, Ramaphosa came under fire for offering only R2-million to the families of the deceased miners. That was after he bid R19.5-million for a buffalo cow and her calf at an auction in Rustenburg. His bid failed, but he spent R15-million on other animals at the auction.
A pro-Zuma ANC leader defended Ramaphosa, saying branches would not be swayed by the criticism and claims made at the commission about their candidate.
"He is the longest-serving national executive committee member of the ANC," said the party leader. "He is the darling of business and one of the architects of our Constitution. If he is elected he will complement Zuma. He turned the NUM into a formidable force and he has been biding his time."
So far, Ramaphosa has not indicated that he is interested in the deputy president position, but there is little doubt he would bow to the wishes of Mangaung delegates.
Ramaphosa has always been popular in the party, even after he ventured into business. He was considered as a possible compromise candidate when Zuma and former president Thabo Mbeki were locked in a bitter contest in the run-up to the Polokwane conference.
An ANC leader lobbying for Ramaphosa's return to politics told the Mail & Guardian: "We are going to make a clarion call to the leadership of the ANC, NUM, the SACP [South African Communist Party] and [trade union federation] Cosatu and others whose have worked with Cyril to come out and defend him."
If he decides not to contest Zuma for the presidency of the ANC, Motlanthe would be an overwhelming favourite to retain his position as its deputy president.
Zuma's supporters have guaranteed him the position, provided he declines nomination for the presidency. However, his supporters believe he stands a chance of toppling Zuma as president in December.
Motlanthe is well respected in the party, even by those who are unhappy that he has not refuted reports that he intends to challenge Zuma for the presidency.
But he has also ruffled feathers through his insistence that the ANC mishandled its disciplining of Malema.
Although some in the ANC say Motlanthe should allow Zuma to complete his second term, others believe he needs to take over the ANC now to unite the party and restore its tainted image.
Motlanthe's supporters fear that, if Zuma retains his position, the party is likely to lose a substantial number of votes in the 2014 elections. Recent surveys have shown that Zuma is fast losing support among ordinary South Africans, particularly the youth, whereas Motlanthe's support has increased.
His spokesperson, Thabo Masebe, said: "He does not think about it [contestations]. There is no position reserved for him [in the ANC]. He has not been nominated [as yet]. At the end of the process he will be asked whether he accepts or not. I don't know of any disciplined member of the ANC who chooses positions. Branches nominate you; you have no say."
The human settlements minister has been nominated for the post of deputy president by the youth league's national executive committee and several branches in Gauteng, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape.
Among the candidates, Sexwale is the only one who has openly shown an interest in the deputy presidency.
However, political observers believe his naked ambition might backfire because according to ANC culture, it is considered vulgar to campaign openly for positions.
Sexwale has been criticised as abrasive and reliant mainly on the size of his substantial wallet to garner support for his political ambitions. In early 2007 it was revealed that he had given away millions of rands in shares in his Batho Bonke black economic empowerment consortium to "high-flyers".
Some of the beneficiaries of his largesse included ANC treasurer Mathews Phosa, former Northern Cape premier Manne Dipico and Western Cape ANC chairperson James Ngculu.
The party's treasurer – a vocal critic of Zuma's leadership style – appears to have lost substantial support among ANC members, particularly those who support Zuma's re-election campaign.
But some in the anti-Zuma faction, including the youth league, believe he is the right candidate for the deputy president post.
The group that supports Phosa believes that, unlike Sexwale, who has made his presidential ambitions clear, the group that supports Phosa believes he would allow Motlanthe to serve as ANC president beyond 2017.
Sexwale is known to have told his close allies that he wants to take over as president in 2017 – a move which many believe would threaten the stability of the party.
Phosa's close association with Malema appears to be the main reason for his loss of support in the tripartite alliance. A lawyer by profession, Phosa successfully defended Malema during his first disciplinary hearing two years ago.
He is likely to be nominated for a top-six position by branches in Limpopo, the Northern Cape, North West, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Mpumalanga, his home province.
African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, SACP boss Blade Nzimande and Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba are considered dark horses for the deputy president post