Johannesburg - It's crunch time for the ANC on Saturday as the governing party meets for its dog-eat-dog elective conference at Nasrec, near Soweto.
Beset by ugly divisions, last-minute horse-trading goes into overdrive on Friday as those supporting either party deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa or Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma seek the upper hand.
This happened amid an application in the Bloemfontein High Court in which opponents of re-elected provincial chairperson Ace Magashule sought to nullify the outcome of the provincial congress.
If the court grants their application for an interdict, the ANC’s Free State provincial executive would not be able to participate in this weekend’s conference.
Last-minute lobbying for the top post intensified on Thursday night, with one of the senior ANC leader saying “there is last-minute lobbying happening right now in the buses on their way to Nasrec”.
Deal-making was under way late on Thursday, with Ramaphosa and Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu issuing a joint statement confirming that they had banded together.
Sisulu had finally accepted to be Ramaphosa's deputy after she was initially dumped because of her comments on the campaign trail.
Fears remained that verifying the credentials of delegates could delay the conference or even lead to its collapse.
ANC Western Cape secretary Faiez Jacobs, a Ramaphosa supporter, insisted that only branches which have had quorating branch general meetings would be able to participate in the conference.
An insider working on the Ramaphosa campaign said attempts at manipulation would be monitored closely.
“The office of the secretary-general (Gwede Mantashe) is onto it, especially where branches were not part of the provincial general councils (PGCs) and didn’t take part in the nominations process,” said the official.
He said provinces were now tallying their numbers to see how many delegates they could get into the conference.
“It’s going to be sneaky, but that is the nature of the beast. People will try and do everything to sneak in delegates,” said the insider.
While Ramaphosa leads the race with 1861 branch nominations after the conclusion of the PGCs, Dlamini Zuma’s supporters were confident she would overtake him despite her 1309 branch nominations, aided by Mpumalanga’s 223 “Unity” branch nominations.
The figures are not indicative of actual delegate votes because some branches that exceed 250 members are granted two branch delegates.
On Thursday, Mantashe said it was all systems go for the big event.
"We are quite happy that the conference will go ahead; it will be successful, it won’t collapse. It will be the most well organised, most engaging conference," he said.
If everything goes according to plan, by Sunday night the nation and world will know who will be the next ANC president.
A draft programme for the keenly awaited conference shows that the nomination of president, national chairperson, secretary-general and treasurer will take place on Saturday afternoon. The announcement of results is expected around 8.30pm on Sunday.
KwaZulu-Natal ANC chairperson Sihle Zikalala said Dlamini Zuma's supporters had a mandate to vote for leaders belonging to different camps as additional members of the national executive committee.
“Jeff (Radebe) and Senzo (Mchunu) will be accommodated in the list of the PEC (provincial executive committee). The unity will be achieved through accommodating others as additionals,” he said.
Zikalala said ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize, whose deputy president campaign had been rejected by both Ramaphosa and Dlamini Zuma’s camps, would also be accommodated.
“The aim of forging unity is to consolidate the ANC so that it regains the support on the ground and the confidence of the members, and to ensure that there is no split.
"We value the collective contribution of Mkhize and Mchunu to both our movement and government. We will ensure that they become part of the leadership collective,” he added.
KZN would be represented by more than 700 delegates, the majority of them supporting Dlamini Zuma.
Zikalala said they would continue to lobby delegates from opposing factions to support her “until voting takes place on Saturday night". “We are meeting delegates and engaging them to ensure that we consolidate the numbers.”
Zikalala said they were aware that “bribes for votes” could be a factor to try to convince delegates to betray the mandates of their branches.
“We know that we are up against people with financial capacity, who are depending on money, but we have always defeated money and we are going to Johannesburg to defeat money,” he said.
Ramaphosa’s camp have also made claims that money would be used to sway his supporters.
His lobbyist and former KZN economic development MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu said his camp would continue to engage with delegates supporting opposition candidates.