More top ANC leaders have turned against President Jacob Zuma as the battle for the presidency intensifies ahead of the party's Mangaung conference in December.
Former top cop Bheki Cele has emerged as a key lobbyist for the "Anyone But Zuma" grouping in KwaZulu-Natal, as the campaign ahead of the conference shifts into top gear.
And ANC stalwart and former cabinet minister Pallo Jordan this week added his voice to those calling for change in the party, urging the Mangaung conference to elect strong leaders with moral courage.
"The elective conference that the ANC holds at the end of the year must rise to the challenge of producing a leadership core that has the will, the moral courage and moral standing to take on the task of clearing corruption," Jordan said at a memorial lecture to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Bhisho massacre on Friday.
With exactly 21 days to the opening of the official nomination period for the ANC presidential election, anti-Zuma campaigners are taking their fight to the president's home province of KwaZulu-Natal to shake the perception that he is unchallenged there.
And they are kicking off a campaign in Mpumalanga - until now believed to be safe Zuma territory.
North West premier Thandi Modise and Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale are expected to share a platform with ANC Youth League deputy president Ronald Lamola at a "cadres assembly" in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, today.
The campaign against Zuma took final shape this week when various groupings opposed to his second-term bid met in Sandton on Wednesday night to thrash out who will head the anti-Zuma ticket. They agreed to back Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, with Sexwale as their candidate for the deputy presidency.
Representatives from party structures in every province except the Northern Cape were present at the meeting.
"The idea is to make this a national campaign and not have no-go areas. Even in places where Zuma is strong, we will go there. We won't repeat the mistake of Thabo [Mbeki's lobbyists] who focused on certain provinces ... we know that they are also working in our areas," said a member of the ANC's national executive committee (NEC) who attended the meeting.
The Sunday Times has learnt that Cele met Motlanthe and Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile two months ago and has attended meetings with the anti-Zuma grouping, which is keen on bringing other influential KwaZulu-Natal leaders, such as education MEC Senzo Mchunu, over to their camp.
KwaZulu-Natal is the largest ANC province in terms of membership and is widely believed to be firmly behind Zuma. But Motlanthe supporters are pinning their hopes on the popular Cele, who once chaired the province's influential eThekwini region, to split the KwaZulu-Natal vote.
Cele met Motlanthe at OR Tambo House in Pretoria on July 20, when, it is understood, they spoke about the state of the ANC, albeit without touching on the succession battle.
Motlanthe's spokesman Thabo Masebe could not confirm this, saying: "There are so many people who meet with [Motlanthe] in so many places. We never speak about those meetings. I don't know if he met with Bheki Cele."
Cele's spokesman, Vuyo Mkhize, confirmed the two had met, saying it was one of several meetings Cele held with ANC leaders about his axing.
"These meetings were initiatives of his ANC bosses who wanted him to brief them on the events of the previous two years that had led to his axing - all of which they were completely in the dark about, save for what they had read in newspapers - as well as establish the basis of his court action," said Mkhize.
On Cele's links with the Anyone But Zuma grouping, Mkhize said: "Cele has, indeed, been sounded-out by various ANC comrades, who recognise him as part of the [NEC] leadership collective that was elected at Polokwane, on various questions including the current state of the party as well as his availability to serve as part of a post-Mangaung leadership collective. Without exception, he has directed those comrades to raise such matters with the current ANC KwaZulu-Natal leadership as the organisational authority to which he is immediately subordinated."
But a senior leader in the anti-Zuma faction, who sits in the ANC's national working committee, said: "Bheki is mobilising against Zuma like nobody's business. He is pulling regions against JZ."
The leader said Cele had been angered when Zuma fired him as police commissioner.
Cele did not attend Wednesday's meeting but is said to have attended an earlier caucus meeting in Sandton on Sunday.
Despite the Cele boost and consensus about Motlanthe, sharp differences still threaten the anti-Zuma campaign. Before the Wednesday meeting agreed on Sexwale as the group's candidate for the deputy presidency, the youth league had pushed for ANC treasurer Mathews Phosa to get the nod.
Phosa is believed to still be keen on the deputy presidency, even though the meeting said he should remain party treasurer.
Another point of contention is the post of secretary-general, with the youth league insisting that the position should be contested by Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, while Motlanthe supporters in the Eastern Cape want current secretary-general Gwede Mantashe to retain the position.
The youth league's push is made difficult by a growing sentiment within the Anyone But Zuma group to distance itself from former league boss Julius Malema, who was expelled from the ANC earlier this year.
"We are fighting for change, we can't be working on a campaign which is seen as Zuma's defeat by Julius ... change is not about humiliating Zuma.
"Mbalula is wanted by Julius and the youth league ... it's their conference resolution," said a Eastern Cape anti-Zuma campaigner who also attended the meeting.
Zuma's supporters held their own meeting last Saturday at Coastlands Hotel in Umhlanga, KwaZulu-Natal. The meeting, which was attended by regional and provincial leaders from all provinces except the Western Cape, is said to have agreed to retain Zuma, Motlanthe, Mantashe and chairwoman Baleka Mbete. Another name to feature prominently in the discussions was that of the Minister of National Planning, Trevor Manuel - with a strong view that he should be party treasurer.
Businessman Cyril Ramaphosa's name was raised as a possible candidate in case Motlanthe decides to stand against Zuma.