PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma's bid for a second term as ANC leader has received a major boost with the re-election of his ally as party leader in Mpumalanga province.
Premier David Mabuza was re-elected unopposed at the ANC provincial conference in Nelspruit on Friday, after his rival, health MEC Clifford Mkasi, declined nomination.
Mkasi's withdrawal did not come as a surprise, as it was clear that Mabuza's supporters formed the majority of the delegates who filled a marquee outside the Mbombela Stadium.
Mabuza's return is a major boost for Zuma's re-election bid, as Mabuza is expected to sway the province in the president's favour ahead of the ANC's national conference in December.
But, speaking to the media yesterday, Mabuza refused to say if he would be backing Zuma's second-term bid, saying that to comment on the matter would be a contravention of the ANC's ban on leadership succession debates.
"I don't want to cross the line. The line is clearly drawn, and it should not be me coerced by you to cross the line. Don't do that. I'll be in trouble with the secretary-general [Gwede Mantashe] ... We are going to discuss this matter at the right point. We are not afraid. We will do it, and our views will emerge."
Zuma received a warm welcome when he opened the conference on Friday.
He chastised Mabuza's supporters for singing anti-Mkasi songs and booing former deputy chairman Charles Makola.
"When I arrived here, you were very excited. I asked myself, 'Why are you here?' I remained with one impression only: you came to vote and nothing else. Don't give that impression [because] it is a wrong impression. Everybody knows that this is an elective conference. Why, then, do you disturb other programmes ... Don't disturb other people," he said.
Some delegates were wearing T-shirts inscribed with "100% Zuma for 2nd term" and others with "100% DD Mabuza".
In his political report, Mabuza spoke out against greed in the ANC.
"It is nowadays perceived that leadership in structures of the ANC affords opportunities to assume positions of authority in government. Some individuals then compete for ANC leadership positions in order to get into government. Many such members view positions in government as a source of material riches for themselves," he said.
Mabuza's election was not without controversy, as his opponents claimed his lobbyist had bribed some delegates to vote in his favour.
But Mabuza rubbished these claims, saying he knew all along that he was not going to be challenged.
"From where we were sitting running the organisation, we knew that there would be no contest, because branches nominated, and for you to qualify, you need to [win] a certain number of branches to contest. If you don't, you can't contest."
He called for unity and promised not to purge his rivals. "A cabinet reshuffle is not on the agenda. The [leadership] outcome should not be utilised as a measure to determine the performance of MECs. That is a wrong tool ... we [reshuffle] when we see that the work of government is being compromised."
Leading up to the conference, youth league provincial chairman Khotso Motloung was removed as mayor of Gert Sibande district municipality, and Makola was suspended as manager of the Nkangala district municipality.
These developments were seen as part of a strategy to purge those opposed to Mabuza. But he denied this yesterday.