Gloves off in ANC leadership race after NDZ snubs Cyril's overture
Presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has turned down a request for a meeting with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, setting the scene for a bruising contest at the ANC conference next month.
The Sunday Times can reveal that Dlamini-Zuma's aides advised her to reject Ramaphosa's overture last week, warning her it was a "plot to weaken her campaign".
Insiders in both camps said Ramaphosa suggested the meeting after he had controversially announced his preferred slate for most of the ANC's top six posts.
The invitation was conveyed by one of Ramaphosa's senior political staffers.
A source close to Dlamini-Zuma said the Ramaphosa camp was "spreading the rumour that the NDZ campaign was not gathering any steam" and the request for a meeting was "clearly an attempt to dislodge our campaign".
A second source close to the Dlamini-Zuma campaign said: "It would have been made to appear that Mama [Dlamini-Zuma] did not enjoy support and she was going to negotiate for a place on their ticket."
Ramaphosa fell out with those punting unity in the party after he announced a line-up of four preferred leaders, including Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor as his deputy, two weeks ago.
Dlamini-Zuma's camp said Ramaphosa's move had destroyed any hope of unanimity at the conference next month and meant it was pointless to negotiate with him.
The rebuff of Ramaphosa's invitation to a meeting was the clearest indication yet of Dlamini-Zuma's lack of interest in trying to reach a deal with him.
However, she has held discussions with other senior ANC leaders with the intention of accommodating them in her list of leadership candidates.
Last week the Sunday Times revealed that Dlamini-Zuma met ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize - also a contender in the presidential race - and told him she regarded her nomination as president to be non-negotiable.
The meeting sparked speculation that Mkhize may have dumped talks with Ramaphosa and sided with Dlamini-Zuma.
A senior ANC leader loyal to Dlamini-Zuma said her campaign would have to "try and accommodate Zweli" on her ticket.
Other campaign members confirmed this but noted that they had settled on Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza as their candidate for deputy president and would not easily be swayed from their position.
With the deadline for branch general meetings fast approaching, party leaders said the race between Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma was too close to call.
The Dlamini-Zuma side has claimed that when provinces consolidate nominations it will get the nod from six provinces.
The ANC regards each of its three leagues as the equivalent of a province in the election process, meaning the party is divided into 12 "provinces".
The Dlamini-Zuma camp hopes for the formal nomination of the ANC in the Free State, North West, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, to add to the support of the ANC Women's League and the ANC Youth League.
Numbers from branch general meetings show that Ramaphosa has overwhelming support in Gauteng, Northern Cape and the Western Cape. His supporters claim majority backing in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape, but admit there is also support for Dlamini-Zuma in those two provinces.
The ANC Veterans' League is likely to nominate Ramaphosa.
If the two campaigns are correct in their predictions, nominations would be split equally at the conference next month. This would mean the contenders would have to vie for at least 51% of the votes of the more than 5,000 delegates.