The final stretch of the ANC succession race could turn out to be a straight sprint between deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize.
With the campaign by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said to be losing steam and those of other candidates spluttering, Mkhize is mopping up support as he quietly works towards dislodging the campaign of the initial frontrunners.
Mkhize is touted as the candidate of the unity campaign led by Gauteng provincial chairperson Paul Mashatile and Mpumalanga chairperson David “DD” Mabuza.
City Press heard the three are working hard to position themselves as a solid voting bloc when the party goes to its national elective conference in December; in the name of “unity”.
Insiders said this “reconfigured” premier league grouping or “super league”, is looking to position themselves as the power brokers of this year’s conference.
“If you take those guys and the bases they bring, they are significantly stronger than Cyril, which is a fear of his,” one insider said.
Earlier this year, Mkhize was touted for the position of deputy president on the Ramaphosa faction but he was then ditched in favour of another contender in the succession battle, Lindiwe Sisulu.
The move is said to have infuriated Mkhize so much that he is now out to prove that he does not need the Ramaphosa ticket to get the top job or the number two spot.
It’s understood at some point, Mkhize was seen as the next finance minister in the Ramaphosa government.
City Press spoke to several people in the extremely close-knit Mkhize campaign, who revealed Mkhize had worked the ground alongside the Ramaphosa camp in good faith, but later found that he was merely being led on and would be left in the lurch at the eleventh hour.
A source in the Ramaphosa camp admitted that Mkhize has blindsided their campaign and that the groundswell around the treasurer-general was a major concern.
“No one could have predicted this third-way thing. We had invested a lot of resources into Alfred Nzo region [in the Eastern Cape], only for them to turn around and give Zweli the nod.
"If he could do that there, we can only imagine what other gains he could have made in other parts of the country,” the Ramaphosa lobbyist said.
The sentiment in both the Sisulu and “super league” camps was that the Ramaphosa campaign peaked too soon, leaving it with little fuel left to make it to the conference.
They say that the Ramaphosa campaign was fuelled by an “anything but Dlamini-Zuma” approach but is now likely to run out of steam in light of viable alternatives.
However, a key lobbyist for Ramaphosa said Mkhize was unlikely to make headway because he announced his intentions way too late.
He added that while Mkhize was fraternising with the chairpersons, the Cyril campaign was on the ground, winning over support in the branches and regions in Mpumalanga, Gauteng and other provinces.
He was confident Ramaphosa would win nominations from all of Gauteng’s regions. In Mpumalanga, Ramaphosa was banking on at least three regions backing him.
He also dismissed Mkhize as a regional figure who was respected in KwaZulu-Natal and nowhere else.
The Mkhize camp was exploiting divisions caused by warring factions of the two frontrunners Ramaphosa and President Jacob Zuma’s pick for the job, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
The selling point of the Mkhize campaign has been a rallying call for unity of the ANC and for members not to align themselves with factions, which are likely to decimate the party post the conference.
This week Mabuza told a talk show host that the grouping wanted to unify the ANC above all else and that part of achieving that unity would mean destroying the two “factions” which have emerged, namely the Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma factions.
He said that it was unlikely at this stage for the two sides to reconcile.
Insiders from the new bloc are confident that the chairperson of the Free State, Ace Magashule, and his counterpart in the North West, Supra Mahumapelo, will soon come on board.
The end game for Mkhize is to be the man in charge, who all parties will come to, begging for space.
“Zweli has been forced by circumstances to campaign, since both sides have excluded him. It is clear for all to see, he doesn’t want to come back as treasurer-general, he wants to be elevated to a more key position.
“He is exploiting the fractures in KZN – as well as those who are anti-Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – and making himself an alternative candidate.”
While Mkhize will look to deliver what is currently a deeply divided KwaZulu-Natal, the Mpumalanga province along with Gauteng will seal the deal.
“Zweli knows that Paul and DD are key to his campaign.
"He knows that if he has the two of them and he can deliver KZN, he is sorted because there are divisions everywhere else which will negate each other,” an insider said.
The soft-spoken ANC treasurer-general was a staunch supporter of Zuma and stood by his side in his fight for the top job at the ANC’s watershed Polokwane conference in 2007.
Mkhize allegedly fell out with Zuma over the axing of finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in 2015.
Tensions were exacerbated again this year when former finance minister Pravin Gordhan was given his marching orders.
Those close to Mkhize say that the economic turmoil set off by the reshuffling of finance ministers was making it difficult for Mkhize, as treasurer-general of the ANC, to engage with investors who kept questioning Zuma’s seemingly impulsive reshuffles.
Despite this, Mkhize is believed to still be loyal to Zuma.
“Zweli’s door is open with Zuma. Zuma may at a later stage throw his weight behind Zweli and abandon the Nkosazana project and I think Zweli will go for that, he will never throw Zuma under the bus,” said a person in his campaign.
Both Mkhize and Ramaphosa lobbyists believe Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign is virtually dead.
Meanwhile, Mabuza and Mashatile met with Sisulu this past Monday around their campaign of unity, City Press heard.
Insiders to the Sisulu campaign – which has been riding on the ticket that there is appetite for a woman in the presidency – told City Press that it was unlikely for the current human settlements minister to agree to deputise Mkhize.
Those close to her campaign say that if she were to eventually align herself with the Ramaphosa slate, she would be willing to be deputy president.
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