Outgoing ANC president Jacob Zuma, Treasurer General Dr Zweli Mkhize and ANC Presidential hopeful Cyril Ramaphosa at the 54th national elective conference at Soweto's Nasrec Expo Centre.
Image: MASI LOSI/ The Sunday Times

Outgoing ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize turned down nomination for the position of party deputy president after striking a deal with Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza‚ sources said.

Mkhize stunned ANC conference delegates when he took to the podium in Nasrec on Sunday night to withdraw his candidature at the eleventh hour‚ despite being nominated by 193 branches.

TimesLIVE understands that Mkhize's backers had reached a similar deal with deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa's camp – agreeing that he would decline nomination to allow Lindiwe Sisulu to contest the position under their slate.

According to senior ANC figures familiar with the discussions between Mkhize‚ Mabuza and the supporters of presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma‚ they were due to lobby for Mkhize to be their number one candidate on the incoming National Executive Committee of the party‚ which is its highest decision-making body in between conferences.

The sources privy to the matter said‚ in terms of the ongoing discussions‚ Mkhize‚ a former premier of KwaZulu-Natal and health MEC‚ has been earmarked as the next finance minister‚ should Dlamini-Zuma win the presidency.

According to people close to the talks‚ Mkhize's withdrawal from the race was done after discussions with Mabuza. The two have been closely working together on their "unity project".

Mabuza is up against Sisulu‚ who is contesting under the Ramaphosa slate‚ for the position of deputy president.

When the elections agency announced the candidates for deputy president‚ it noted that Mkhize already signed the nomination form. But at the end of the announcement‚ Mkhize took to the stage to announce that he has withdrawn his candidacy "after much consideration".

When Mkhize made that announcement‚ Mabuza lit up and was hugged by his fellow leaders in Mpumalanga. A senior leader in Mpumalanga said Mkhize's move meant a "guaranteed victory" for Mabuza as deputy president‚ regardless of who wins the ANC presidency.

Hours before the ANC's electoral agency announced the nominations‚ Mkhize's supporters were told that he would decline nomination for the deputy presidency.

"Kindly be advised that after careful consideration‚ TG has decided to withdraw his nomination in the interest of unity‚" the message to his supporters said.

The majority of Mkhize's nominations for the deputy presidency of the ANC came from branches in the Eastern Cape‚ which overwhelmingly voted in support of Ramaphosa. "This was not an easy decision and was taken after broad consultations. The details will be communicated at a later stage‚" the message read. TimesLIVE understands that the ANC in the Eastern Cape‚ who support Ramaphosa for president‚ would be split in their support for Sisulu and Mabuza.