Presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s lobbyists, who are furiously shopping for candidates for her list, have been hoping to woo current ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe to be her deputy.So far, only Free State premier and provincial chairperson Ace Magashule has a confirmed position on Dlamini-Zuma’s list – as secretary-general. The Dlamini-Zuma camp wants to consolidate a “unity” ballot that they hope will be more appealing than the lists of other presidential candidates.City Press understands that KwaZulu-Natal ANC chairperson Sihle Zikalala and some of his lieutenants met Mantashe as recently as two weeks ago to try to persuade him to join their camp. But Mantashe, whose home province is the Eastern Cape, and who’d rather be deputy president on the Cyril Ramaphosa ticket, is believed to have turned them down. Mantashe is apparently wary of serving with Magashule, whose monarchial leadership style and proximity to the Gupta family are sources for concern.Zikalala confirmed the talks with Mantashe, but said engagements between the two were “in the context of consultation that will inform formal discussion once the official [lobbying] process starts”.Responding to City Press’ information that Mantashe had turned them down, Zikalala said: “If you are saying he declined, that is great.”Mantashe told City Press the engagement did not necessarily amount to “bargaining” for positions, but was merely “looking at various permutations”. “There is no bargaining, [but] comrades are engaging one another,” he said.An ANC leader in KwaZulu-Natal’s eThekwini region said that some regional leaders and Zikalala had met with Mantashe ahead of his visit to the Ukhahlamba region for the OR Tambo Memorial Lecture in Wembezi township, Estcourt. The leader said Mantashe had then agreed to stand as deputy to Dlamini-Zuma.“He gave the proposal the green light. I’m surprised to hear now that he turned it down.”The source said “the negotiating principle in our drive has been the issue of how to unify and bring people on board [and] that was why we spoke to the secretary-general”.“The Eastern Cape agrees, KwaZulu-Natal agrees and the Free State agrees. I wouldn’t know yet about Mpumalanga and North West, but there is an acceptance of him for that reason.”Zikalala said he had had numerous engagements with Mantashe in his capacity as secretary-general of the ANC. “My view has always been about persuading comrades on the question of unity and that all comrades must come together and unite and then focus on that unity,” he said.“Our key strategic approach towards the national conference is around unity, uncompromisingly advancing radical economic transformation and rooting out factionalism and corruption.”City Press heard that, so far, the Dlamini-Zuma camp only had two names on her slate.“Three weeks ago, [President Jacob Zuma] agreed in a meeting that it is Nkosazana and Ace,” said a Zuma inner-circle source.“They have to go out and find other people,” he said. Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe, himself bidding for the top job, is also being considered as a potential deputy for Dlamini-Zuma. However, the proposal prompted questions around the desirability of having both the party president and deputy coming from the same province.“But the counter-argument was that the ANC is a unitary organisation and it is not defined by provinces,” he said.The Dlamini-Zuma camp is also being driven by the need for someone who legitimises her campaign in the same way that Ramaphosa did for Zuma’s 2012 campaign at the Mangaung national conference.A KwaZulu-Natal ANC Youth League insider said the overwhelming sentiment in the camp was for Dlamini-Zuma to be president and Magashule to be secretary-general. However, he said the league in KwaZulu-Natal preferred Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa as secretary-general.The Mpumalanga chapter of the league is steadfast on ANC provincial chairperson and Premier David Mabuza becoming the deputy president.Mabuza, who was once at the centre of the pro-Dlamini-Zuma “premier league”, is now playing hard to get and is dangling the Mpumalanga block vote in front of Ramaphosa’s campaigners.The youth league leader said Zikalala’s group wanted unity in order to avoid a bruising contest in December.Despite the KwaZulu-Natal provincial leadership being clear on its support for Dlamini-Zuma, combined with the president’s endorsement of his ex-wife, her campaign is stuttering at grassroots level.Up until now, all regions in KwaZulu-Natal have been silent on their positions. Even Zuma’s own region – Musa Dladla in the north of the province – has not backed her.Zikalala is said to be in a Catch-22 situation because he was groomed by ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize, who is also being pushed as a potential deputy presidential candidate on the Ramaphosa ticket.On the other side, Zikalala is indebted to Zuma, who strongly backed him in the run-up to the controversial provincial conference in 2015 and in the subsequent dispute over its legitimacy.The fact that Mkhize and Dlamini-Zuma come from the same province also makes the chance of them running together slim.A KwaZulu-Natal leader said Mkhize sometimes visited the regions and reminded people of his role in “building” them when he was still in the province and that “he knows their secrets”.“So, everybody is sitting on the edge of their seats because they do not know which side they must take. They are scared of Zuma and they are scared of Mkhize.That is why they are pushing for unity. It is not genuine. It is because they are unable to choose between the two,” he said.North West ANC Youth League secretary Sipho Dial said its position was to respect that the succession debate was yet to be declared open, but they would like to see someone such as provincial ANC chairperson Supra Mahumapelo serving as national chairperson.“We want that energy he has, the passion he has and the experience he has gained given his time in the organisation,” Dial said.“We want to have an ANC that has a social relationship with young people, in general. In him, we see a person that young people could easily relate to.”Dial said that, at the right time, the league would have a discussion with Mahumapelo to show him that it would be good for the ANC for him to serve at national level as part of the top six. He said the province would also not speak of a female president. “At the appropriate time, it will lobby for Dlamini-Zuma – not because she is a woman, but because she [has] strong character”.The ANC Youth League in the Free State said it had a mandate to support Dlamini-Zuma as president and Magashule as secretary-general. Chairperson Makalo Mohale said the league would put forward both names when the succession race officially kicks off.On Friday in Hammanskraal, Gauteng, Dlamini-Zuma denied that she was campaigning, saying anyone who said she was doing so was “mischievous”.“We cannot stop assisting our people because there is an election or because we are scared that you will say we are electioneering – no. If there is someone in need, we must help. “We are going to continue creating a better life for our people, whether there is an election or not.”A jubilant group of women, mostly elderly, danced and ululated in their free ANC Women’s League-branded T-shirts as Dlamini-Zuma stood watching from under a gazebo. “Umka’ Zuma,” [it’s Zuma’s wife] shouted one of the excited women after briefly embracing her. Dlamini-Zuma was also offended at being called “ma’am”. Frowning, she demanded to know the identity of the journalist who called her that. “My name is Doctor Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. That’s my title. I worked for it, I studied,” she snapped before proceeding to the door of a car readily opened for her by her VIP protectors. When an apology was offered, she said, “no problem”, and left.