A faction in the Eastern Cape, which is contesting against ANC provincial chairperson Oscar Mabuyane, may speak for Mashatile during its conference. Party insiders say that the faction, headed by Babalo Madikizela and Terris Ntuthu, has already hit the ground running to lobby for Mashatile.
Those close to Madikizela say he has been misunderstood as a Zweli Mkhize lieutenant, a relationship that party insiders say was born out of convenience at the 2017 Nasrec conference.
Madikizela first made waves when he became Mabuyane’s biggest contender, with his Alfred Nzo home region naming him as its preferred candidate. This move was later replicated by the Nelson Mandela Bay and Amathole regions, which also called for Ntuthu, a fierce rival of Mabuyane.
Should Madikizela emerge as chairperson, Mashatile could have the backing of two large provinces, the other one being Limpopo.
In Limpopo, Danny Msiza, who will be contesting for the position of provincial secretary against Soviet Lekganyane, is also said to be a Mashatile backer.
Msiza’s home region of Sekhukhune was the first to publicly pronounce on Cyril Ramaphosa as their preferred candidate for president.
Those in Msiza’s inner circle say the Limpopo heavyweight, who is a close ally of Madikizela, has also been working overtime to convince regions that Mashatile should be the ANC’s second in command.
The backing of both depends on Stan Mathabatha emerging as the national chairperson, one insider said.
Meanwhile, provincial heavyweights in Mashatile’s home province of Gauteng are said to be gearing up for a tense contest between Panyaza Lesufi and Lebohang Maile.
Maile, an ally of Mashatile, is expected to also favour him.
Others, such as national executive committee member Nkenke Kekana, have been lobbying for Mashatile in other provinces, including in some regions in KwaZulu-Natal.
“Nkenke is the man putting things together on the ground. He is the one that is talking to all these provincial players and his strategy is working. Nkenke and Paul make an incredible team. Paul is the man that challenge[d] comrade [former president] Jacob Zuma and he was the one that anointed David Makhura as chair. He has the qualities we need for a leader and I think we have a solid man in him,” one party insider said.
Mashatile is said to be in a sweet spot to further this ambition after he took over the secretary general’s office in January when deputy secretary general Jessie Daurte was on leave.
Although those close to him say that he is destined to be a leading contender for ANC president in 2027, the party leaders have also pointed out a flaw in his plans — deputy president David Mabuza.
Together with Mabuza, Mashatile ran his campaign for treasurer general on a unity ticket. The two leaders would emerge as part of the ANC’s top six. The two men were alleged to have ambitions of making it to their highest office in tandem.
For some time, as Mabuza battled an illness, ANC insiders suggested that he would hand over the reins and endorse Mashatile as his preferred candidate for deputy president.
This short-lived dream was thwarted when Mabuza announced that he would be running for a second term.
“He really put a spanner in the works,” one Mpumalanga leader said, adding that many thought Mabuza would retire from active politics at the end of his term.
“So many people were hoping that he would throw in the towel. When he said that, some people felt they had to go back to the drawing board. One leader who was hedging his bets on a Mabuza retirement is Gwede Mantashe.”
Lobbyists who congregated in Polokwane during the 8 January ANC anniversary celebrations seemingly cast Mantashe aside, with some saying that he should retire “to his farm in the Eastern Cape”.
The Mail & Guardian understands that there are talks in the Eastern Cape about supporting Mantashe or Mabuyane for the national chairperson position.