The Motlanthe faction was invigorated on Thursday after he was nominated by Limpopo and the Western Cape for the position of president. He was also nominated for the post by Gauteng and the ANC Youth League.
In Limpopo, Motlanthe received 268 votes; President Jacob Zuma got only seven. But the margin was narrow in the Western Cape: Motlanthe got 99 votes and Zuma 90.
Other ANC leaders nominated by the two provinces were Fikile Mbalula for the position of secretary general, Mathews Phosa for deputy president, Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale for treasurer, Thandi Modise for deputy secretary general and Thenjiwe Mthintso for national chairperson.
Although Zuma received the majority of votes in six provinces, the Motlanthe supporters believe they still stand a good chance of emerging victorious.
"It is not over until the fat lady sings," said one, who is also a provincial executive committee member in Gauteng. "The only advantage that Zuma has now is the psychological advantage because of numbers. But things are still the same.
"If the process is free and fair in Mangaung, the results can still go either way. People are in for a big surprise in Mangaung. If the right delegates are at the conference, there will be 50-50 chances.
"There will be a massive shift in KwaZulu-Natal. Remember, provincial leaders there did not allow delegates to nominate their preferred candidates for the positions of president and secretary general.
"As a result, Kgalema was nominated by 300 delegates for the position of deputy president, but this was not publicly communicated by the provincial leadership."
The Mail & Guardian has established that Motlanthe's lobby group held an urgent meeting in Johannesburg on Monday to develop a fight-back strategy. The group agreed to establish a dedicated team that would try to convince some of Zuma's supporters to back Motlanthe, among other things.
The group also resolved to bring together supporters of Sexwale and Phosa, who differed over who should be Motlanthe's deputy, to ensure they have a more solid backing in the campaign.
Another strategy, according to the provincial leader, will be to put pressure on Luthuli House to deal urgently with alleged irregularities in some provinces, including North West and the Eastern Cape.
Motlanthe supporters in the Eastern Cape wrote a letter to Luthuli House this week complaining about alleged irregularities that took place during their provincial nomination conference last weekend. The complaints include claims that when credentials were announced at a plenary session the total number of delegates was 535. But when the results were announced, a total of 602 had cast ballots.
They claimed another irregularity was that, although the process was correctly started by presiding officer Ncedisa Mthenjwa, it ended up being presided over by ANC provincial chairperson Phumulo Masualle.
They also claim that 50 members of the provincial executive committee were allowed to vote, instead of 20.
There were allegedly also irregularities in the accreditation system at branch general meetings in the Amathole and OR Tambo regions. In some branches, no meetings were held, but accredited delegates representing them voted at the nomination conference.
Other branches held meetings and followed all the verification processes, but their delegates were denied accreditation at the provincial nomination conference despite appearing on the register.
North West branches complained about irregularities at the provincial general council meetings, including "ghost" delegates and the exclusion of branches that wanted Motlanthe to replace Zuma.
This week ANC members in North West accused ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe of ignoring their complaints when they visited Luthuli House to lodge them.
"The secretary general's personal assistant is the one who addressed the branches," said an ANC leader close to North West provincial secretary Kabelo Mataboge. "That's an insult. Branches cannot drive all the way to Luthuli House to be addressed by a PA."
The M&G has learnt that members of pro-change branches in North West were planning to boycott the pre-registration of Mangaung delegates, scheduled to take place in Rustenburg on Friday.
"Some branches are urging the provincial secretary to withhold his signature for the pre-registration," a source said.
But a pro-Zuma provincial leader said pre-registration did not need the provincial secretary's approval because it was run by the ANC's head office and the delegates registered themselves.