President Jacob Zuma with Cyril Ramaphosa, Baleka Mbete, Zweli Mkhize, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Lindiwe Sisulu, Jeff Radebe and Matthews Phosa. Lindiwe Sisulu seems to have abandoned her presidential campaign and thrown her lot in with ANC Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS

Johannesburg - South Africans and the rest of the world will be eyeing the hotly contested 54th African National Congress (ANC) elective conference from which a new leader will emerge on Sunday, as President Jacob Zuma's scandal-ridden second term draws to a close. 

It has been a long road from the Mangaung conference in 2012 where Zuma, outgoing secretary general Gwede Mantashe and chairperson Baleka Mbete were re-elected to steer the century-old party. 

This year's conference, to be held in Nasrec, Johannesburg, has drawn widespread interest after seven ANC leaders indicated they would contest for the party's highest job. After months of lobbying, disputes, and campaigns accompanied by mudslinging, thousands of ANC delegates from across the country will make their way into the Nasrec plenary hall on Saturday. 

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The delegates will vote for their preferred top six leaders and National Executive Committee (NEC) members. The conference will also examine and come up with new policies ahead of the 2019 general elections. 

Two main slates have emerged from the campaigning - that of former African Union Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. 

Tables have been turned from the traditional practice of the party's deputy president replacing the outgoing president, as provinces such as Free State, North West and KwaZulu-Natal and the ANC's different leagues having come out strongly in support of Dlamini-Zuma. 

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The ANC Women's League is adamant that it is time for a woman to lead Africa's oldest liberation movement. The other women presidential hopefuls, Mbete and Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, were interestingly never a choice for the women's league. 

Although the outgoing Mantashe has already predicted a peaceful and successful conference, the run up to Nasrec has been marred by disputes, court cases by disgruntled members challenging the outcome of some regional and provincial conferences. This has the potential of causing tension as far as the adoption of credentials is concerned. A credible credentials outcome is crucial to ensure that only legitimate delegates are in conference to cast the all important vote for a new leader. 

The highly charged atmosphere and deepened divisions could lead to proceedings going either way at the conference. 

Delivering a speech closing the 2012 Mangaung conference, a victorious Zuma told delegates at the University of Free State (UFS) that it was time the party entered a second transition and renewed itself. 

Read more: #ANC54: Lindiwe Sisulu joins Ramaphosa's 'winning team'

He said prompt action against ill discipline, factionalism and slate politics should be done away with. "Through political education and cadre development, as well as decisive action against ill discipline, we will be able to root out all the tendencies that we have identified over the years. 

"These include factionalism, the sowing of disunity and confusion within the movement, the use of money to buy members, positions or influence in the organisation, the hurling of insults or even worse, the attacks on members of the ANC." 

That is still to be realised as far as ANC supporters are concerned, many of whom stayed away and did not vote in the 2016 local government elections that cost the ANC three of the country's metros. 

It remains to be seen who will emerge as the leader of the ANC and bear the mammoth task of uniting the fractured party ahead of the crucial 2019 general elections, with the party of Mandela, Tambo and Sisulu facing its biggest threat of a reduced majority, or losing power as voters become more despondent with its leadership. 

African News Agency/ANA