By Political Bureau
African National Congress President Thabo Mbeki and his lobbyists were humiliated on Sunday, as the majority of the ruling party's provinces and branch delegates said no to a third term and an overwhelming yes to Jacob Zuma.
With the last of the votes for ANC presidential nominations filtering in on Sunday, it was clear that in terms of overall head count and provincial support, Zuma was streets ahead by 842 votes, and that the rank-and-file wanted change.
According to unverified results, Zuma mustered a total of 2 236 votes to Mbeki's 1 394 and Zuma's lobbyists were quick to urge Mbeki to throw in the towel.
But Mbeki's camp was not about to concede defeat yet.
Last-minute hurdles along the way for Zuma to the final Polokwane vote in three weeks' time include: a possible corruption charge; a heightened campaign by Mbeki's lobbyists; fickle voters swayed by patronage; and behind-the-scenes horse-trading.
Mbeki bagged four provinces with relatively modest margins (Eastern Cape, Limpopo, North West and Western Cape), while Zuma comfortably led the pack in the remaining five provinces.
The latest tally excludes figures from the ANC Youth League, earmarked for Zuma, and possible Women's League support for Mbeki, as well as votes from the PEC and NEC delegates who will also cast secret ballots in Polokwane.
Voting delegates from these structures total 400, as opposed to 3 675 branch voters. Among the last votes in on Sunday were from Gauteng, with 262 to Zuma and 94 for Mbeki.
Zuma was not at home to witness his successes, opting instead for an international "get to know me" visit to India, Los Angeles and London.
Mbeki returned from the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kampala, Uganda, on Sunday and flew into Zuma's heartland, where he was embarrassingly thrashed by 508 votes to nine. He was in Durban for the World Cup draw.
Zuma may well be president when the event takes place in 2010, given that ANC policy conference delegates said it was preferable for the ANC president to also be the country's leader.
However, Mbeki's lobbyists, particularly in the party's Eastern Cape stronghold, were not talking compromise or considering calls for their man to withdraw.
Mbeki's main backer and provincial strategist, Andile Nkuhlu, said: "We will contest on Thabo. We will vote by popular force... Withdrawal is not even an issue, get real! We will work on delegates, we will work on other provinces."
Nkuhlu acknowledged: "It was always going to be a difficult contest, and we are dealing here with seasoned leaders of the ANC. It will be extremely tight, most probably up until the end."
A Western Cape Zuma lobbyist, who did not want to be named, said the weekend results showed that Mbeki was a spent force. "There is no way Thabo Mbeki can recover from that. We have two-thirds support of structures. He must just withdraw now."
Patronage and any other means to swing the vote back to Mbeki, would not succeed, he said.
He said the Zuma camp was not in a mood for compromise or olive branches.
His advice to the Mbeki camp was that "they must accept the outcome of a democratic process ... You must be magnanimous enough to say these people have done better than you".
On the corruption cloud hanging over Zuma, he said: "We will still elect Jacob Zuma even if they charge him.... They have been using state institutions, leaking information that they are going to charge him. They must charge him. We will elect him anyway. We want change."
National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Tlali Tlali said on Sunday the legal process was "a completely different kettle of fish from political processes" and that the prosecuting bosses would not be influenced by Zuma's potential rise to the ANC presidency.
Meanwhile, Mbeki's allies also appeared to feel the backlash.
Former Northern Cape premier Manne Dipico and his successor, Dipuo Peters, were among those axed from the province's NEC nomination list.
And in KwaZulu-Natal, another Mbeki ally, Premier S'bu Ndebele, narrowly escaped embarrassment, when the provincial ANC leadership moved to block a popular motion to remove him from the NEC list.
The big shock in the Free State came when former premier and now ANC chair and defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota was defeated in every position for which he was nominated.
He was a candidate for deputy president, chairperson and secretary-general, but garnered only five, four and 49 votes for these positions.
For the deputy president's position, the province nominated Kgalema Motlanthe with 295 votes.
For the party chair, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma gained the nomination with 305 votes, and for the position of secretary-general, South African Communist Party national chair Gwede Mantashe was nominated with 292 votes.
Earlier, the KwaZulu-Natal provincial governing council voted overwhelmingly to remove ANC strategist Joel Netshitenzhe and Justice Minister Brigitte Mabandla from the list and replaced them with former deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge and former MP Ruth Bhengu.
An independent electoral agency appointed to conduct the election will, in the presence of the ANC's electoral commission, conduct an audit from Tuesday to determine the validity of candidates standing for all leadership posts, as well as their availability for nomination.
Unless either nominee withdraws and there is no other successful nomination from the floor, 4 075 voting delegates are to determine by secret ballot in Polokwane, Limpopo, in December who is to lead the ANC and fill the party's other top offices and the 60 positions on the NEC.