Provincial ANC chairs pushing for a united, uncontested leadership conference in December have denied claims that this is a ploy to find a third candidate to replace President Jacob Zuma.The current frontrunners for the job are ANC MP Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. The two could become casualties of unity talks as the chairs push members to ditch slates ahead of the party’s elective conference.Gauteng ANC chairperson Paul Mashatile said some of those running for the presidency would be eliminated.He is part of the national executive committee-delegated team of provincial leaders tasked with seeking a consensus to avoid a bruising and divisive election.“The process is not about forcing names down anyone’s throat. If a particular name is dropped, there has to be a discussion taking into account the sentiment of the branches,” Mashatile said.The initiative has raised the question of whether it is an attempt to ensure ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize leads the party. There are also suspicions that the chairpersons are ambitious and want to get leadership posts.“We are trying to unite the ANC to stop fights and slates,” Mashatile said.“We are not there to lobby for positions. But there is recognition that some chairs must be part of the top leadership and that position comes from their structures.”Mashatile said the intention is to discourage slate voting as they prepare for branch general meetings from next week, where potential leaders will be nominated.He said the chairs wanted to ensure a generational mix in the leadership, and that corruption and state capture were fought.They must hope the branches will buy into this attempt.Failure of unity plan will lead to the demise of the ANC.“We are persuading each other, otherwise there will be blood on the floor at that conference,” Mashatile said.However, they have not yet started discussing which leaders they will recommend to structures in a bid to secure the future of the ANC in the 2019 elections. The process will be finalised by November.The provincial leaders have supported extending the top structure of the ANC to include an additional deputy president and secretary-general.There have been suggestions that the team must wait for nominations to conclude before pushing for specific names. Mashatile said it could be too late if they didn’t intervene now.As a show of unity, Mashatile, ANC Free State leader Ace Magashule, North West leader Supra Mahumapelo and KwaZulu-Natal deputy leader Willies Mchunu were invited to a special provincial general council hosted by Mpumalanga ANC chairperson David Mabuza. The chairpersons of Northern Cape, Western Cape and Limpopo were absent.Mabuza said that only those his provincial executive had held talks with were invited. The intention is still for all provincial chairpersons to hold talks.The interpretation of what constitutes a slate seems to have rattled cages among the leaders. Mahumapelo, however, insists there are no slates in the ANC.“There is nothing wrong with canvassing. They must not call it a slate. We must call it names that were discussed and agreed to.”Mashatile, Mabuza and Magashule have all received blessings from their provinces to take up positions in the top structure.Mahumapelo said that, ultimately, branches would decide and that the names would be consolidated. His province appears to favour a woman succeeding Zuma.