A group of ANC leaders believe there is a concerted effort by President Jacob Zuma's supporters to undermine the authority of ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe and weaken him politically.
This comes after Mantashe's recommendations on the future of the ANC Youth League and the ANC in Limpopo were flatly rejected by a powerful bloc within the party's national executive committee (NEC) that is close to Zuma.
Mantashe has been tipped by supporters for the position of ANC deputy president and ultimately ANC president. Others in the ANC want Zweli Mkhize for ANC deputy president, and are lobbying for African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to replace Zuma as president. Mantashe's supporters prefer ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa to replace Zuma as president in 2017. Both Mantashe and Ramaphosa served as leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers, Cosatu's largest affiliate.
In his report tabled before the ANC NEC last week, Mantashe recommended that the youth league's NEC be placed under political management instead of disbanding it.
While he supported the disbanding of the ANC provincial executive committee (PEC) in Limpopo, he proposed that a neutral team led by veteran ANC leaders in the province form part of a task team to lead Limpopo until a provincial conference to elect new leaders had been convened.
His recommendations were shot down by some within the NEC despite the fact that they were endorsed by the party's top-six officials and the national working committee.
"This is unprecedented," said a NEC member. "Never before has the NEC rejected recommendations by ANC officials and the national working committee. It shows the strength of Jacob Zuma's camp in the NEC. Whenever they [Zuma and his supporters] lose debates, they throw it back in the NEC. It reflects a lack of coherence among ANC officials and the national working committee.
Covering a lot of ground
"The sad thing about the whole thing is that no one from the top-six officials supported him in his argument. He was a lone voice."
Another ANC NEC member said: "He [Mantashe] believed he had covered a lot of ground in getting the [youth league] right. He explained that he had met the league's NEC four times since Mangaung. His recommendations were informed by the work he did. But you could see that a lot of things were done [by Zuma supporters] behind the scenes a few days ahead of the NEC meeting. People felt they were losing ground in terms of getting their preferred candidates to take over the leadership of the youth league," said the NEC member, who preferred not to be named.
A member of the league's disbanded NEC said he was taken aback by the ANC's reasoning that the league was disbanded because of continued ill-discipline.
"There was no ill-discipline between December and now. These people are just fulfilling promises they made to their supporters. Gwede was the only person who was warming up to the youth league."
The source said Zuma's supporters were unhappy that Mantashe had received more provincial nominations than the ANC president and appeared to have a stronger support base.
"Zuma wants to anoint his successor. They want to make sure people like Gwede do not have space. They are going in for the kill.
"In Limpopo, they appointed former Vhembe ANC regional chair Philemon Mdaka [as chairperson of the provincial task team], who was closely associated with a faction that unsuccessfully contested [Cassel] Mathale during the provincial elective conference in 2011.
"How do you say you are disbanding the Limpopo PEC because of factionalism and you go and appoint someone who belongs to another faction that lost the elections? These people are killing the ANC," said the source.
The Mail & Guardian also understands that Mantashe was sidelined regarding key appointments in government and parastatals that took place without his knowledge.
"It is clear that the ANC deployment committee has collapsed. How do you say people are ANC deployees without involving Mantashe as the ANC's chief executive? Major decisions are taken at Mahlamba Ndlopfu [Zuma's official residence]. Policy decisions like the national development plan are taken at government level. Gwede feels like he is just a clerk and needed only when his office should defend Zuma.
"He is also worried about the involvement of businesspeople like the Guptas in the affairs of the government and state institutions. It is no secret that the Guptas' compound in Saxonwold has become the new site of ANC deployment.
"Gwede is one of the few ANC leaders who refuses to take orders from the Guptas and this is what causes tension between him and those close to Zuma," said the ANC NEC member.
ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza said the party was not aware of any attempt to undermine Mantashe. He said the youth league issue was not about Mantashe. "Any matter irrespective of who raised it belongs to the structure he raised the matter in. In this case, the officials of the ANC discussed the matter and took it to the national working committee and the commmittee took the matter to the NEC, which has the right to make its own determination. It was not about Gwede," said Khoza.
He defended the NEC's decision to appoint Mdaka as chairperson despite the fact that he was in the anti-Mathale faction that lost the election during the provincial conference in 2011.
"Those people are neutral and are not party to any grouping," said Khoza. He said the fact that Mdaka was the main complainant about alleged irregularities in the provincial government did not mean he was a factionalist. An NEC task team led by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe had found no substance to the allegations raised by Mdaka and other leaders in the anti-Mathale group.