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The ANC election battle is now officially on. The party's members will nominate leaders of their choice for election at the party conference in Mangaung from December 16.
From past conferences we know several things will happen. The first is that there will be a huge amount of political noise. Every ambitious ANC politician will be scrambling around for a reporter and a microphone. Populists will be standing on every platform to say all sorts of things. Some will go to Marikana and some will shed tears. Don't worry too much about this noise. This is an election: it is noisy, intense, hard-fought and ruthless. It is like all elections.
The second is that every Tom, Thabo and Lerato will be bandying numbers around. This has already started after party secretary-general Gwede Mantashe released membership figures which show that the ANC has grown phenomenally in KwaZulu-Natal, a President Jacob Zuma stronghold, and declined shockingly in Eastern Cape, a focus of the so-called "Anyone but Zuma" faction.
Numbers will be used to tell you that the Zuma faction is winning, and other numbers will be used to tell you that the Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe's faction will win. Take these numbers with a pinch of salt: they are not always true unless they are from the electoral committee at the conference.
In the run-up to the Polokwane conference in 2007, numbers were used to fool the faction supporting Thabo Mbeki into believing it would win. As branches nominated candidates, text messages flew across the country. Here is one of them:
"Comrades please receive the synopsis on the trends of bgm's (branch general meetings) across the various provinces. These numbers were valid as of Wednesday night & we are yet to update the analysis with bgm outcomes of Thursday & tonight. 1. In the E CAPE of the 258 bgms that have quorated 200 nominated TM & 58 JZ. 2. In Limpopo of the 135 bgms that have quorated 96 nominated TM & 39 JZ. 3. In N WEST of the 130 bgms that have quorated 116 nominated TM & 14 JZ. 4. In W CAPE of the 115 bgms that quorated 107 nominated TM & 7 JZ & 1 TOKYO. 5. In N CAPE of the 17 bgms 6 nominated TM & 11 JZ (it is instructive to note that 3 of our strongest regions Francis Baard, Siyanda & Namaqua are yet to start with bgms). 6. FS we r awaiting final tallies. 7. GAUTENG has just started but will monitor its progress. 8. Mpumalanga we are awaiting final tallies but not looking good. 9. KZN awaiting final tallies but not looking good."
As you can see, the Mbeki faction believed it was ahead. History shows that the numbers lied to them. This should be a lesson to those who support Zuma for a second term today. Many of them are smug and believe they have already won. They need to remember that many provinces and structures of the party say they support Zuma, but in places like Gauteng delegates are already saying they will not be dictated to when they arrive in Mangaung. It is, after all, a secret ballot.
The Motlanthe faction should remember this too when it says it has Gauteng in its pocket. I know several Gauteng branch chairmen who say they will vote for Zuma when they arrive in Mangaung.
What happens after the heat, noise and dust of Mangaung in December? One of the tragedies of the Zuma victory in Polokwane was its "winner takes all" policy.
If Motlanthe stands against Zuma in Mangaung and loses, as seems likely for now, what happens to his deputy presidency of the country? He has pointed out that he serves at the invitation of the president. Will he be fired to make way for a new deputy president?
What about Zuma? If he loses and Motlanthe becomes the new ANC president does that mean that, as happened to Mbeki on September 2008, Zuma gets recalled by a party that will have Julius Malema baying for the blood of the man who kicked him out of the party?
The same goes for a plethora of other leaders who will have stood against the winning side. If Zuma wins, for example, will he stand for the continued noise and insults from the Limpopo ANC leadership under Premier Cassel Mathale?
There is a lot at stake in the elections: prestige, access to wealth and patronage. If you think we have been on a roller-coaster ride these past few months, then prepare yourself for the next five years.