President Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe File photo: Bongiwe Mchunu.

Johannesburg -

Some were almost killed. Others had bricks raining on their heads. A considerable number had their influence bought. Either way you look at it, the ANC’s so-called road to Mangaung has been bloody.

Infighting, violence, threats, a hostage drama and allegations of vote-rigging have undermined the countrywide process to select party leaders and delegates to the conference.

The party’s North West secretary, Kabelo Mataboge, survived four bullets in a suspected assassination attempt motivated by differences over preferred leadership candidates. Then he was locked inside a bunker and excluded from his province’s nomination conference.

Julius Malema’s trusted confidant, Limpopo ANC Youth League secretary Jacob Lebogo was manhandled, held hostage and threatened with death at his province’s nomination meeting. Limpopo and the Western Cape needed a second try to finally nominate leaders.

But, within 48 hours, president Jacob Zuma will kickstart a conference where he is expected to be re-elected – or be forced to step down.

His main challenger, deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, has taken the unprecedented step of accepting nominations for three posts: president, deputy president and national executive committee member.

This has created confusion and consternation as Motlanthe will compete with Zuma and some of the very people who campaigned for his (Motlanthe’s) nomination.

ANC treasurer Mathews Phosa and NEC member and Housing Minister Tokyo Sexwale, who are considered to be in Motlanthe’s faction, have accepted nominations to contest the position of deputy president. The Zuma faction has nominated ANC stalwart and tycoon Cyril Ramaphosa to be Zuma’s deputy.

University of Pretoria political analyst Prince Mashele said

: “It means he has reached a point where he is convinced that he cannot work with Jacob Zuma because he knows if he contests and loses, he is not coming back as deputy president (of the country).

“It also tells us about his relationship with his current boss; that he does not think he can continue serving this man. My sense is that he is fed up with Zuma,” Mashele said.

Unisa’s Professor Lesiba Teffo said principle, respect for the ANC constitution, and the desire to “save” the party and restore its reputation were behind Motlanthe’s decision to challenge Zuma.

“Motlanthe is saying, ‘win or lose, I shall leave the political stage, if needs be, having helped to knock sense in the rank and file of the ANC that principle supersedes self-interest underscored by monetary benefits’,” Teffo said.

Motlanthe’s decision not to campaign appeared to be a strategy to project himself as a leader who is wanted rather than one who imposes himself on ANC branches; a leader who, unlike Zuma, is not beholden to groups that could make it difficult for him to govern.

Cosatu boss Zwelinzima Vavi told reporters on Thursday: “Delegates need to ask what interventions are required to ensure a leadership which is uncompromised and is primarily driven by its desire to address the needs of the people, an ANC which operates in a democratic and accountable manner and takes responsibility for transformation.

“Failure to do this will mean that the organisation is constantly held hostage by different groupings who are using the movement as a vehicle for personal accumulation.”

Some ANC leaders said on Thursday they expected a battle over conference credentials as many legitimate delegates were excluded because they were known to support the “wrong” candidates. This, they said, could delay the start of the conference.

Others felt that the branch nominations showed that Zuma would have no serious contest as the majority appeared to be firmly behind him. They are rather more concerned with the conference’s aftermath. Following Zuma’s victory over Thabo Mbeki at the Polokwane conference five years ago, several politicians and top public servants lost their jobs in what political analysts described as “unseemly purges” that hurt service delivery.

Trevor Manuel, an ANC stalwart, appeared similarly concerned when he said on Thursday: “The ANC should not eject skills from the leadership cadre. The tradition that the ANC should draw on the skills and acumen of the brightest and best among us is an approach that should be sought out again.”

This weekend marks the end of the bloody road to Mangaung. It is, for many, high noon.

The Star, Political Bureau