Jitters around the Economic Freedom Fighters have left the ruling party reluctant to field its own mayoral candidate in the bitter battle for control of the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro.
Instead, the ANC's national executive committee (NEC) has opted to support a mayoral candidate from one of the smaller opposition parties in the council.
Sources who attended the NEC meeting in Cape Town over the weekend and provincial leaders in the Eastern Cape, have confirmed to News24 that the party has no intentions of governing the city for now.
They fear being "held at ransom" and being "dictated" to by the EFF too close to the 2019 national elections.
"The fear is that the person who takes over as mayor will be dictated to by the EFF and become a stooge if [they] take over with their support," said a source who did not want to be named.
Another said there was panic within the party about being backed by the EFF and fears that it could backfire in the future because the EFF was not willing to enter into any formal coalition agreements.
The EFF first voted for Democratic Alliance Mayor Athol Trollip, to oust the ANC, but the party has since made a U-turn to "punish" the DA for refusing to support its motion for land expropriation without compensation in the National Assembly.
"What if later, the EFF embarrass us and say: 'You do this, or we remove you as mayor?'" another source asked.
The party's motion of no confidence in Trollip is to be heard on Thursday.
The EFF, which only has six seats in the council, said it would back an ANC candidate if the person was of the "calibre" of former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, who turned down R600m and a finance minister position from the Guptas.
An ANC provincial leader, who is close to the discussions, said they did not want to be "dictated" to by the EFF, while another said the EFF should be put in a corner to force it to take over the position to "expose if it is ready to govern".
EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi told News24 that they were not interested in governing the hotly-contested metro.
He said they would support any candidate - even from the opposition - who was not corrupt.
"We won't vote for a corrupt person. We will vote for any person who is outstanding but, at the end, Trollip will fall," Ndlozi said.
He added that there were no formal talks with the ANC.
Secretary general Ace Magashule would not directly confirm that the party was rejecting the EFF's offer.
However, he said the party did not believe that coalitions actually worked, hence the NEC's slow pace in reaching a decision.
"We are consulting with other structures, organisations which are in that municipality. Whether it's UDM or Patriotic Alliance, we are in discussions with them and we want this thing to be resolved locally because we have councillors of the ANC in there. We have confidence in them.
"Whatever happens we will work with other political parties who want to see change in that municipality," said Magashule.
The battle on Thursday is expected to go to down to the wire and one or two votes are likely to be needed to swing it.
The opposition parties in the city, who refer to themselves as the black caucus, were expected to meet to discuss a possible candidate.
The DA, which has 57 seats, is expected to be supported by COPE and the ACDP who each have one seat, bringing the total to 59.
It is expected that the EFF's motion will be supported by the ANC, which has 50 seats, the United Democratic Movement, which has two, United Front Eastern Cape and AIC, which have one seat each, bringing the total to 60.
However, the Patriotic Alliance (PA), which also has one seat, has not indicated which party it will support.
"As much as we are committed to the black caucus, we are very clinical in guarding against running from a roaring lion into a crouching tiger," the PA's Marlon Daniels told News24.
"We shall not conform to the propaganda spread by the DA that the EFF is handing the metro back to the ANC. This metro will not be handed to the ANC, nor shall they be the face of Nelson Mandela Bay. If anything, the metro shall be governed by the minority parties," he said.
In November last year, Trollip and speaker of the council Jonathan Lawack, both survived votes of no confidence in them, which had been brought by Daniels and seconded by ousted deputy mayor and UDM councillor Mongameli Bobani.
This was just months after the UDM pulled out their coalition agreement with the DA.
In the event of a stalemate, the speaker - who is currently a DA member - has the deciding vote.
- Additional reporting by Derrick Spies.
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