Cape Town - African National Congress secretary general Gwede Mantashe has warned party MPs that the ANC will find it difficult to agree on a presidential candidate if President Jacob Zuma is booted out today during the vote of no confidence.
Sources told News24 that Mantashe warned that the party cannot risk supporting the motion led by opposition parties, and painted a grim picture for the governing party if Zuma is removed.
Three sources who attended the ANC caucus on Tuesday morning ahead of the historic secret vote of no confidence said Mantashe had reiterated the party position that members must toe the line and vote against the motion.
He outlined the bad prospects for the party if the motion were to succeed.
"He told us it would be difficult for the ANC National Executive Committee to agree on a presidential candidate within the 30 days, as required by law; that could lead to an early election," said one source, who did not want to be identified.
According to the Constitution, if members cannot agree on a presidential candidate within 30 days, elections must be called within 90 days.
Another source added that Mantashe had said the party would enter the elections at its "weakest".
Following the caucus meeting, ANC chief chip Jackson Mthembu told journalists that the party would face more "difficulties" if it failed to come up with a replacement for Zuma.
"If you vote for the motion, it would further fracture and weaken the ANC," Mthembu said.
Despite the show of unity following the caucus meeting, the ANC is going into this eighth motion of no confidence against Zuma deeply divided.
Ululation, clapping and singing
Zuma has already survived two calls for him to go within the party's NEC, pushed forward by members who are senior parliamentarians. They include Derek Hanekom and Aaron Motsoaledi.
Others Members of Parliament, outside the NEC, who have called for Zuma to go are Mondli Gungubele and Makhosi Khoza.
News24 understands that Zuma attended the caucus meeting, but did not say anything, nor were there any dissenting voices from the MPs.
One Zuma supporter said he felt confident following the meeting and described the morale as high within the caucus, while two MPs, who are anti-Zuma, were unimpressed with Mantashe's assessment.
"There was no excitement on the stories they were saying, one can expect anything this afternoon," the anti-Zuma supporter said.
Ululation, clapping and singing could be heard from within the caucus room.
A Zuma supporter said the ANC would not be able to go into elections in its current state, with an elective conference due in December.
"If we are forced into an early election, it means we would have to cancel the elective conference and then who would be our presidential candidate?" the source asked.
On Monday night, after Speaker Baleka Mbete announced that the vote would be via a secret ballot, a NEC member said the motion had a 50% chance of succeeding.
'We will deal internally with our challenges'
But they admitted that if the ANC could not agree on a presidential candidate, it would deepen the crisis facing the party.
"The only way to avert a crisis would be if we agreed on deputy president [Cyril Ramaphosa] taking over, but if there was a contest, then we would face a crisis," the source said.
However, an NEC member who is a staunch Zuma supporter said they expected the president to survive the motion.
"People undermine the ANC. It has its own challenges, but when attacked by the enemy, it closes ranks. We will deal internally with our challenges," he said.
The ANC said it expected a full House, with only six apologies, including that of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who hardly ever attends parliamentary sittings.
Last week, Mantashe told journalist, following an NEC meeting, that the ANC had not discussed a way forward should the motion succeed. The sitting gets underway at 14:00.
Various MPs and Cabinet ministers exited the Old Assembly chamber on Tuesday.
One MP, who did not want to be named, said he would be voting with his conscience.
Another MP, Bongani Bongo, said he was very confident that the motion would be defeated.
Hanekom, meanwhile, told journalists outside Parliament that his vote was his secret, and declined to go on record.