The ANC’s Alfred Nzo region in the Eastern Cape has endorsed treasurer general Zweli Mkhize to become the party’s president, making him the seventh candidate in the race to succeed president Jacob Zuma.
The Mail & Guardian also understands that a group of Zuma supporters wants Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba to replace Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza as the candidate for ANC deputy president on Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s slate.
Mabuza, who was one of the three ANC provincial leaders who made up the Zuma-aligned “premier league” faction, has showed signs of pulling away from the league and has been touted to appear as deputy president on Mkhize’s slate instead.
The group of Zuma supporters, which has the support of Tshwane and Ekurhuleni, is also pushing for Police Minister Fikile Mbalula to replace Gwede Mantashe as -secretary general.
Gauteng, under the leadership of Paul Mashatile, has thrown its weight behind deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa.
Alfred Nzo regional chairperson Sixolile Mehlomakhulu on Thursday confirmed the decision to back Mkhize to become president.
“We worked well with Comrade Zweli for a very long time. And we trust that Comrade Zweli is very clear in terms of the ANC,” he said. “We need trusted comrades. As we speak, he was never involved in [any] such scandals of state capture and other things, including while he was the premier of KwaZulu-Natal. We trust that calibre of comrades, that’s what the ANC needs at the current juncture.”
Mkhize was expected to address the Alfred Nzo regional conference on Thursday.
The factional divide between Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma has created fertile ground for an unprecedented number of presidential candidates in the succession battle as groupings in the ANC seek an alternative to unite the party.
Other presidential contenders include ANC national chairperson Baleka Mbete, Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, former ANC treasurer general Mathews Phosa and Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe.
Those backing Sisulu believe only she can unite the ANC because she was “born into the party and will never sell it”.
Mbete is believed to have been Zuma’s and the ANC Women’s League’s original choice for a woman president before they made an about-turn to support Dlamini-Zuma.
Phosa has been endorsed by an Eastern Cape branch and, although not a favourite, has declared his interest in contesting the position.
Radebe has received support from the ANC in Midvaal, which said it would lobby other branches.
At present the Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma groupings still appear to wield the greatest influence in the succession race, although the latter may be forced to reconfigure because of Mabuza’s changing stance.
Mabuza gave the strongest indication yet of his growing distance from the Dlamini-Zuma grouping at the ANC’s national policy conference, when he declared a decision to turn his back on factions.
“I once participated in a faction. Remember when we went to Polokwane? We were in factions. When we went to Mangaung, we were in factions. And that has left the ANC more and more poor. So we want to do away with it,” he said.
With the premier league now losing favour with Mabuza, a younger generation of ANC leaders has seized the opportunity to push not only for Gigaba as deputy president, but also for Mbalula to become secretary general in the Dlamini-Zuma grouping.
If the push is successful, Mbalula will replace Free State Premier Ace Magashule, whom he has publicly declared a poor candidate. In June Mbalula tweeted: “Ace Magashule [is] a definite no no no. The man will finish what is remaining of our movement. He will kill it in fact.”
It is understood this move to push Mbalula and Gigaba to the top six is backed by, among others, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane in Gauteng.
The ANC Youth League is among those who have endorsed Mabuza to become deputy president in the Dlamini-Zuma grouping. It has also proposed a second deputy secretary general position, which it wants to be filled by Mbalula.
Youth League president Collen Maine said although some may be pushing for Gigaba to replace Mabuza, the league would not make such a call. “Our candidate for deputy president remains David Mabuza,” he said.
Although slates and positions are being negotiated even before nominations open for the December elective conference, there has been a call to elect the leadership by consensus to break the culture of lobby groups, which damage the ANC’s unity.
At the party’s policy conference, Zuma supported this view, proposing that both candidates who contest the presidential election occupy a position – the winner as president and the runner-up as deputy president.
He also called for the creation of a position for a second deputy president that would be filled by the candidate who was nominated to become deputy president.
Zuma’s proposal was not well received by delegates, who expressed uncertainty as he detailed how his plan would unite opposing sides.