President Jacob Zuma’s campaign in the Eastern Cape appears wobbly, and he could be punished in the second-biggest ANC province should his supporters lose three crucial regional conferences scheduled to take place over the next two weekends.
Luthuli House sources close to the unofficial Zuma campaign insist that he has the support of half of the Eastern Cape.
But the anti-Zuma lobby – consisting of Julius Malema, a youth league faction and ANC national executive committee (NEC) members Fikile Mbalula and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela – has been working hard in the province, pushing an anti-Zuma message.
Zuma was expected to visit the Eastern Cape today. He left for Mexico on Youth Day and headed for China on Mandela Day – even though he’d been scheduled to appear at public meetings in the Eastern Cape.
His spokesman, Bongani Majola, said the president would visit rural development initiatives in the province to hand over tractors to the community.
His leadership will be tested when delegates of OR Tambo, Amathole and Sarah Baartman – previously known as Cacadu – decide on their regional leadership next Saturday. Given the size of OR Tambo and Amathole, the new leadership could influence whether the province wants Zuma. He has reportedly lost support in the other three regions: Nelson Mandela Bay, Alfred Nzo and Buffalo City.
A senior ANC leader predicted that the anti-Zuma group would be elected uncontested in Amathole and Sarah Baartman while there could be a battle in OR Tambo – the biggest region in the province.
In Amathole, current regional chairman Sakhumzi Somyo could be re-elected to his position on the anti-Zuma slate.
Thandekile Sabisa, who is expected to stand for re-election to the position of chairman in Amathole, said it would be wrong for ANC members in the region to start talking names of leaders while their assessment of the leadership was still under way.
ANC Eastern Cape spokesman Mlibo Qoboshiyane said OR Tambo’s delegation to its regional conference – which is also likely to go to Mangaung – has an estimated 600 delegates.
This, according to the anti-Zuma band, is almost as big as the entire Free State delegation of 750.
Provincial secretary Williman Bolwana confirmed this figure. “We are winning in all the regions… There might be a contest in OR, but our forces will emerge,” said the ANC leader, who is among those opposed to Zuma’s second-term bid.
The Eastern Cape is significant because it could seal the fate of Zuma; or that of his deputy Kgalema Motlanthe, should he stand against Zuma; or that of ANC NEC member Tokyo Sexwale, who said last week he was willing to serve. KwaZulu-Natal, which is also divided, is backing Zuma.
A pro-Zuma leader said: “The campaign for those two old men (Zuma and ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe) has been completed. They are secured in their positions. The anti-Zuma campaing was derailed by Malema’s conduct.”
Meanwhile, Malema accompanied Madikizela-Mandela to her 67 minutes in Qunu in the Eastern Cape to mark her ex-husband’s 94th birthday. The trip – during which Madikizela-Mandela referred to Malema as her grandson – has angered the ruling party.
Mantashe told a daily newspaper that her support of Malema was “dangerous to the organisation”, while Malema hit back, saying Mantashe and Zuma were “a huge blunder” to the ANC and the country.
“The ANC should sooner rescue itself from these factionalists who time and again use official structures of the ANC to legitimise their factional decisions aimed at securing them re-election in the 53rd national conference,” Malema said.
Malema said he was not shocked that Mantashe had spoken out against Madikizela-Mandela in the way he did because Mantashe did not know or understand the ANC.
Political commentator Somadoda Fikeni said Madikizela-Mandela’s support of Malema was consistent with her radicalism.
He said that although the Eastern Cape was fragmented, it had a rich and important political heritage and was fertile ground – particularly because of the poverty – for any political campaigning or challenge to the establishment.