Bloemfontein - The election was hours away but the Jacob Zuma victory party had started in earnest with delegates from KwaZulu-Natal among the most vocal.
His many supporters celebrated, blowing vuvuzelas, while motorists resorted to blaring hooters as soon as his nomination was formally adopted by the ANC’s 53rd elective conference taking place in Mangaung.
They were in high spirits, seemingly unperturbed that Zuma was in competition with his deputy president in the government Kgalema Motlanthe.
KwaZulu-Natal delegates effectively accused Motlanthe of running his campaign on a false ticket by constantly insisting that he would only make himself available at the behest of the branches, but that he was on a slate after all.
This after Motlanthe, who had accepted nomination for the position of president and deputy president on the wishes of the branches, on Monday said he would only contest the position of president.
KwaZulu-Natal ANC secretary Sihle Zikalala said: “We thought he was taking his cue from the branches. It seems he is now choosing what he wants and not what the branches want.”
But Zikalala said KwaZulu-Natal would still argue for Motlanthe to get a position on the organisation’s National Executive Committee.
Loud cheers were an indication of the popularity of the candidates nominated for the ANC’s top six, while muted reception or even boos reflected unpopularity.
If the reaction to Zuma’s name was anything to go by, then, at that point, he was re-elected. The majority of delegates cheered loudly when Zuma’s name was announced. There were fewer cheers when Motlanthe was confirmed as standing against Zuma.
The jostle for the deputy presidency was a three-way horse race. Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale, businessman Cyril Ramaphosa and ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa were nominated.
Former ANC national chairwoman Baleka Mbete withdrew her nomination. So did Motlanthe, meaning he would be out of the top six should he lose to Zuma.
There were loud cheers for Ramaphosa, who stood against his three colleagues on the Zuma ticket.
Ramaphosa, Sexwale and Phosa were in 2001 accused of plotting against then-president Thabo Mbeki. But the accusation fell away and their accusers apologised.
The race for secretary-general had incumbent Gwede Mantashe pitted against Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula. Again, if the cheering delegates’ word was final, Mantashe would be retained without a fight.
From the start of the conference Mantashe has been popular, with delegates singing songs in his honour.
The one person who would have popped the celebratory bubbly, even before the election took place was Jessie Duarte. She was nominated unopposed as deputy secretary-general.
She was given a political walk-over when the Thandi Modise withdrew her nomination from the conference floor.
Contestation for the position of treasurer-general had the KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize standing against Paul Mashatile, the chairman of the ANC in Gauteng. But pro-Zuma supporters were visibly in favour of Mkhize.
Motlanthe was denigrated for daring to challenge Zuma. To vent their anger delegates sang: “ Kgalema is leaving, we will see each other again.”
Zuma supporters sang energetically and motorists driving by, opened their windows showing clenched fists as a symbol of support.
One of Zuma’s staunch supporters waved a placard reading: “Zuma seals victory. We are going to make sure he wins. This is just a formality. Msholozi has already won. It’s only a fool who can doubt that.”
However, spirits in the Motlanthe camp were not dampened. “We are confident Motlanthe is going to win,” said one supporter.
A member of one of the prominent branches in Gauteng that nominated Motlanthe for president warned that the delegates were going to surprise people by electing him instead of Zuma.
“People are just confused by the numbers of delegates who are singing. We can’t afford to sing and compete with the Zuma camp. People who support Motlanthe are thinkers who don’t like singing. I can tell you now, the majority of the people are going to vote for Kgalema. They are going to shock many people.”
The delegate claimed that it was not all delegates that had been singing Zuma’s praises, only 25 percent of the people at the conference. “There are a lot of people who know they must save the ANC by voting for Kgalema. They know this is going to be a turning point.” - The Mercury