Bring debate out in the open
Just hours before he was shot dead in Manaba near Margate on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast on Saturday night, Wandile Mkhize made an impassioned plea to Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula via an SMS.
According to the Sowetan, part of the SMS read: "The more time we spend against each other, the more we put our country in crisis. Am worried that if we collectively don't rise above what divides us, Mangaung will be worse than Polokwane, and our movement and country will be at great risk."
Mkhize had spent the preceding four days as one of the more than 3000 delegates who attended the ANC's national policy conference in Midrand, north of Johannesburg.
What the 34-year-old Ugu district councillor witnessed there so troubled him that he felt pressed to write to his former ANC Youth League president - Mbalula - offering to help broker a deal between the competing ruling party factions.
In what must have been a reference to growing divisions between supporters of President Jacob Zuma's second-term bid and those who want him replaced by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, Mkhize offered to do "whatever I can to either bring JZ" or "some senior leaders of KZN" on board.
This he offered to do out of concern that the brewing battle between the two sides would not only leave the party deeply divided but - as happened after the last ANC national conference in 2007 - would also lead to leaders of the losing side being sidelined from the organisation and the government.
"Our movement lost the likes of [former deputy finance minister Jabu] Moleketi and many brains after Polokwane. We can't afford to lose or sideline anyone anymore. We need you all," Mkhize said to Mbalula.
It is not clear yet what led to Mkhize and his friend, Nhlakanipho Ntshangase, being attacked by gunmen on Saturday.
Ntshangase is recovering in hospital.
With the ANC's Mangaung conference a few months away, some within the ANC alliance this week sought to claim Mkhize for their faction - hoping that by doing so they would be implicating their political rivals in the attack.
But there is no evidence yet that his death had anything to do with politics. That it happened so soon after he sent the SMS to Mbalula may be purely coincidental.
His SMS, however, demonstrates that media reports about deep divisions at the ANC policy conference were not a result of journalists' fertile imagination.
There has been much anger and disappointment expressed by various ANC leaders, many of whom are associated with the second-term bid, over the media's coverage of the policy conference.
Almost on a daily basis during the conference, party mandarins would devote a portion of their time at media briefings to go out of their way to attack reporters for "shoddy journalism".
Far from delegates being divided along leadership succession lines, the party leaders said, the conference was "highly disciplined", with those present concerned only with formulating the best policies for both party and country.
Even after journalists had witnessed rival groups making hand gestures and singing songs that were pro or against Zuma, the likes of Justice Minister Jeff Radebe kept on insisting that leadership succession was not a factor at the conference.
But the harshest criticism of how the media covered the conference came on Monday in the form of a missive penned by national executive committee member and South African Communist Party leader Blade Nzimande.
The coverage, he charged, confirms that the media "has, at worst, become an organised opposition voice" to the ANC and the government.
"At best", he continued, it has become "a factionalist player" in ANC politics.
He even intimated that he suspected that some in the journalism fraternity "get paid by their national executive committee sources" to write negative stories about the ANC.
According to Nzimande, last week's indaba "was the most successful policy conference ever", characterised by "high levels of debates" with delegates displaying "intellectual depth and rigour".
It may well be that as journalists we erred in reducing an important debate over the "second transition" into a mere proxy war between those who are in favour or against Zuma's re-election.
The final outcome of that debate, which led to "second transition" replaced by the "second phase of transition", suggests the majority of delegates had not approached the issue along factionalist lines.
But to deny there were some delegates and even members of the national executive committee who did so would be a refusal to accept reality.
The late Mkhize, a former South Coast ANC Youth League leader, would not have found it necessary to write so passionately to Mbalula appealing for party unity had the policy conference been the harmonious indaba party leaders would like us to believe.
One of the ANC's loudest complaints about the conference's coverage is that journalists heavily relied on "leaks" from unnamed sources for information.
The unnamed sources, said party leaders, "distorted and exaggerated" what had transpired during closed sessions of the conference.
But the ruling party can easily solve the problem by following Cosatu's transparency approach by opening up some of the sessions where issues are debated in the presence of the media.
This would allow for more accurate reporting and prevent journalists from being "manipulated" by "factionalist sources" who selectively leak information.
If, for instance, the heated plenary session debate on nationalisation had been open to the media on Friday, there would be less confusion today about what the conference actually decided on this thorny issue.
In this era of SMSes, BBMs and Twitter, party bosses should know that holding conferences in secret can only spell trouble.