The ANC will have a new president: Mantashe
Previewing one of the most important weeks in South Africa’s history
By Sunday the ANC will have a new president.
That was the assurance on Thursday from ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe during a walkabout at Nasrec in Johannesburg, the venue for the ANC's 54th national conference.
His message appeared to settle fears that the worst possible scenarios that could confront the conference were unlikely to unfold.
A disputed result, a collapse of the conference or a scenario in which the election of the new president does not take place would mean that President Jacob Zuma would remain the party leader until a new election could be held.
This would hold the ANC and the country to ransom indefinitely and prolong the political and economic turmoil that has defined Zuma's term as the party leader.
Mantashe's prediction that there would be a new president by Sunday suggests those in charge of the conference operation are confident that the event will not be bogged down by disputes over delegate credentials or procedural matters.
But there is apprehension over procedural hiccups or violent clashes disrupting the conference.
A statement issued by the SA Police Service said national and Gauteng joint operational and intelligence structures would be closely monitoring the conference and that government was "operationally ready to secure and safeguard" the event.
"This security plan is designed to focus on venue security, route security, air security and hotel security, as well as crowd management capabilities," the police said.
The SA National Defence Force is part of the operation and will provide logistical and air support and rapid response to prepare for any eventuality.
A big question at the start of the conference is how much the commotion of the past year will affect the proceedings.
When Zuma addressed the mid-year national policy conference, he was still cheered and applauded, even after his contribution to the ANC's loss of support in the local government elections, his damaging cabinet reshuffle that resulted in credit ratings downgrades, and being implicated in state capture.
ANC leaders have consistently said that it is difficult to hold Zuma to account for his actions while he is still president of the organisation.
TimesLIVE looks back at Cyril Ramaphosa’s political career as the ANC gathers in Gauteng to elect its new leader.
At the end of the five-day conference, the torch could be passed to his preferred successor, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, or his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa.
Zuma will present his last speech as ANC president on Saturday when he opens the conference in front of an estimated 6500 people, including about 5200 voting delegates.
He will do so with a big cloud over his head after a tumultuous week in the courts.
Zuma received a walloping from Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo in his judgments on the state capture inquiry and the appointment of the National Director of Public Prosecutions, and was held personally liable for the costs of litigation to delay the appointment of a judicial commission into allegations of corruption against the Gupta network.
Mlambo affirmed former public protector Thuli Madonsela's remedial action that Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng should appoint the judge to head the commission because the president was "conflicted".
TimesLIVE looks back at Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s political career as the ANC gathers in Gauteng to elect its new leader. Credit: SABC News
The ANC and its alliance partners, Cosatu and the SACP, all welcomed the judgment on state capture and encouraged the speedy appointment of the commission of inquiry.
The ANC did not respond to the judge's stinging criticism of the president, including that he had acted "unreasonably" and was "reckless".
The question is whether the dramatic backdrop to the conference has made an impact on the delegates, and whether this will influence their voting choices.
The delegates must decide whether they trust Zuma's judgment on his successor when it has repeatedly been called into question.
The election of the new ANC president, whoever it may be, will allow the country to begin 2018 on a new footing. There might be more political and economic turbulence in store, but hopefully this is where Zuma's final send-off begins.