Mbombela - ANC Mpumalanga chairperson David Mabuza is still insisting that the party must avoid a leadership contest at the December elective conference, which is two weeks away.He is still pushing for provincial leaders to meet and agree on preferred candidates.Mabuza was speaking to reporters outside of the province's general council to consolidate branch nominations for the ANC leadership contest.Despite expectations from Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s camp that she would receive overwhelming support from the ANC in Mpumalanga, the province is essentially still up for grabs as she narrowly beat her rival, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa for the provincial nomination.READ: Dlamini-Zuma wins Mpumalanga's nomination for ANC presidentDlamini-Zuma received 123 nominations, compared to Ramaphosa’s 117.Most nominations in the sought-after province, that has the second highest number of delegates, nominated "unity" - an apparent reference to unity within the party - instead of any of the presidential candidates.However, Mabuza’s plan to have "unity" declared the winner of the provincial nomination backfired because the Electoral Commission recorded those nominations as "abstentions".The number of abstentions outweighed nominations for the top six positions, including the presidency.While Mabuza tried hard to get the Electoral Commission to change abstentions to "unity" in front of the delegates, commission officials refused. Ramaphosa’s slate in the lead?When the "unity" nominations were discounted, the top positions surprisingly went to those in Ramaphosa’s slate.The province nominated Gwede Mantashe for national chairperson and Paul Mashatile for treasurer general, beating the Dlamini-Zuma camp’s preferences.Senzo Mchunu received 81 nominations for secretary general, beating Ace Magashule, who only managed 48.Magashule and Mabuza are close allies belonging to the so-called powerful block, the premier league, that has defended President Jacob Zuma throughout his two tenures. Magashule and Mabuza both appear on the Dlamini-Zuma slate. The only Dlamini-Zuma preferences were Jessie Duarte, who received the nod for deputy secretary general, and Mabuza who was nominated for the deputy president position.A united teamA source said Friday's nomination was Mabuza's attempt to say his province had chosen a united team.However, Mabuza again refused to publicly endorse either Dlamini-Zuma or Ramaphosa for the top posts, saying his province opted for "unity".When journalists asked who or what unity was, Mabuza said it was a reference to consensus on leadership at the conference. He said that is the only way the fractured party could avoid another split."If we are saying we must put unity of the organisation first, that means the [new] leadership of the ANC [that] we are going to elect will be achieved through consensus. We are not going to contest one another. We are saying: ‘Let’s unite. Let’s put the leaders together. All of us,'" Mabuza said.He said talks between provincial leaders would continue.Sources say another meeting will be held on Saturday, however it will be hard to convince the two leaders to pull out of the presidential race.A source in the province, said Mabuza’s plan to have the whole province nominate "unity" backfired when Ramaphosa’s supporters defied his instruction and started nominating him. Others also then went ahead and nominated Dlamini-Zuma.A bad strategyNews24 resident analyst Mpumelelo Mkhabela criticised Mabuza’s "unity" strategy."It is the worst political strategy. It is operating outside the rules of ANC that says a person who is a member in good standing must be nominated. Also, it is still not clear to the Mpumalanga delegates who this ‘unity’ is," he said.Mabuza repeated that if factional voting continued, Dlamini-Zuma would win."No doubt [Dlamini-Zuma] will win. I maintain the view. I have been in factional politics for some time, so I understand. So, what you, the people of media, are saying is wrong. The numbers that you have are wrong," he said.After six provinces completed their provincial general councils, Ramaphosa had 904 branch nominations and Dlamini-Zuma had 708. However, Dlamini-Zuma is expected to win the biggest province - Kwa-Zulu Natal - while Ramaphosa is expected to be further endorsed by Gauteng and Limpopo.Mabuza, who previously admitted to being behind the faction that ensured Zuma won the 2007 and 2012 elective conference, has since said it was wrong.