ANC goes down to the wire
The stakes are high as ANC provincial general councils decide on whom they support to lead the party following volatile branch meetings of supporters of President Jacob Zuma and those who want his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, to take over.
Yesterday, Mpumalanga, Gauteng and the Free State held their general council meetings amid worries that some of their branches would not be verified on time by Luthuli House.
With just a few hours before the deadline for nominations today, ANC secretary- general Gwede Mantashe had his hands full last night giving clearance to provinces to go ahead with meetings.
The verification of branches will determine how many delegates provinces will send to Mangaung.
While a number of branches complained that they could not hold proper nomination meetings because of infighting over whether to support Zuma or Motlanthe, the ANC will allow them to hold general meetings to elect delegates to Mangaung.
As the voting continued late into the night in Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape, Free State and Gauteng, it seemed Zuma's backers had ignored warnings from tripartite alliance partner Cosatu not to exclude Motlanthe from their slates.
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi warned on Wednesday that the exclusion of Motlanthe from the ANC top leadership would spell disaster for the ruling party. While Cosatu has endorsed Zuma to lead the ANC for another term, there are calls within the trade union federation to fight to retain the current leadership so as not to lose Motlanthe.
Zuma's backers in Mpumalanga and Free State appeared to put no store by Vavi's concerns. Yesterday, the ANC in Mpumalanga followed in the footsteps of KwaZulu-Natal and the ANC Women's League by nominating Cyril Ramaphosa to replace Motlanthe as Zuma's deputy in the party.
From the singing of most delegates at the province's nomination conference in Middelburg, it was clear Motlanthe had been declared Zuma's opponent going to Mangaung.
" O utlwile ditaba tse monate gore mmmh wa tsamaya? [Have you heard the good news that mmmh is leaving?]," they sang, holding their chins in reference to Motlanthe's goatee. Most wore yellow and blue T-shirts bearing Zuma's face, some with "Phinda Msholozi" and others "100% Zumantashe" written on them.
Although Mpumalanga is not one of the biggest provinces in terms of ANC membership figures, the 467 delegates it will send to Mangaung will play a role in influencing the outcome of the conference.
Yesterday, provincial chairman David Mabuza said the leadership question had long been concluded in Mpumalanga.
The province's conference was expected to adopt a declaration calling on the ANC national executive committee to disband the NEC of the ANC Youth League. The motion was raised by a delegate before the nomination process started.
The Free State ANC general council was marred by delays yesterday with the provincial leadership saying they were waiting for Mantashe to give them the green light on some branches.
The province was set to nominate Zuma for re-election.
The province, led by Ace Magashule, a Zuma supporter, is anxiously waiting for the outcome of a Constitutional Court bid to nullify its provincial elections.
Gauteng, which is expected to back Motlanthe, also held its nomination conference amid concerns that some of its branches' nomination meetings had not been verified by Luthuli House. Last night, ANC spokesman in the province Dumisa Ntuli said the verification process would continue today.
In the Western Cape, 142 branches are expected to pronounce on their choice of ANC leadership when the province holds its general council meeting today.
Since the opening of the nominations in October, the province has been unable to find common ground, with its largest region, Dullah Omar, siding with the anti-Zuma lobby, while smaller, rural regions have shown faith in the incumbent.
Each side has accused the other of skullduggery as they have tried to have delegates from branches that don't support them excluded from sending delegates to Mangaung.
Mphumzile Zuzile and Zine George report that the general council meeting in the Eastern Cape got off to a shaky start yesterday. It was delayed for hours, with some names missing from the conference attendance register.
The OR Tambo region, the second-biggest ANC region in the country, after Ethekwini in KwaZulu-Natal, nominated Motlanthe for party president.
The influential OR Tambo region was the one that broke ranks with the then Eastern Cape leadership ahead of the 2007 Polokwane conference and defiantly nominated Zuma instead of former president Thabo Mbeki.
Limpopo, North West and Northern Cape hold their general council meetings today.