An ANC supporter holds a flag of the ANC while the President Jacob Zuma addresses ANC Gauteng Cadre Assembly in Pretoria. Picture: Phill Magakoe

The ANC's OR Tambo regional election outcome was not a decisive event in the party's leadership race, but did give some clues, analysts said on Monday.

“I don't think OR Tambo tells us either way what the outcome of Mangaung is going to be,” political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi said.

Wits academic Susan Booysen said the OR Tambo region was a “very important building block” leading up to elections for the new African National Congress leadership in Mangaung in the Free State in December.

Thandekile Sabisa was re-elected leader of the OR Tambo region in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape on Sunday in a closely fought contest. Sabisa won the position from William Mkhize by six votes.

Pat Mdingi was elected deputy chairman; Jackson Sabona, secretary; Lawrence Mambila, deputy secretary; and Ntombekhaya Nomakhaya, treasurer.

The top five positions are said to have gone to members aligned with the “Anyone But Zuma (ABZ)” campaign, referring to a push to ensure ANC president Jacob Zuma is not re-elected for a second term.

Their win was crucial, said Booysen.

“If it had gone the other way it could almost have been guaranteed, or much more certain, at this stage that the Zuma faction had the upper hand.

“In order for the ABZ, or 'forces of change' to stay in the game, they had to win that round, it is that important,” she said.

Although OR Tambo has the ANC's second biggest support base after eThekwini in KwaZulu-Natal, Matshiqi said the election result could not be read as a clear indication that Zuma would lose a bid for a second term.

“What it does tell us is that since Polokwane, the president has lost some ground in the region.

“The margins suggest that the region is split more or less in the middle. Because of this split, the balance of support can still change either way between now and Mangaung,” Matshiqi said.

“Whether the erosion of support seen since Polokwane will be enough to disadvantage him 1/8Zuma 3/8, that is not clear yet.”

Booysen said that in the run-up to the ANC's elective conference in Polokwane in 2007, factions built majorities systematically from the branch level upwards.

“They are systematically structured, they capture one region at a time.”

Booysen said any group in the Eastern Cape wishing to oppose Zuma needed a “very strong foothold”.

“Reports I have seen, although they vary slightly, suggest five out of seven regions are going ABZ. The Eastern Cape is leaning towards a change candidate,” she said.

Neither Matshiqi nor Booysen thought that the killing of 34 people at Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana in North West on August 16 played any clear role in the weekend's elections.

Sabisa told the conference that a large number of the workers killed were from the OR Tambo region.

Booysen said she doubted the Marikana shootings had any specific influence on the election outcome, given that this was the second attempt to hold the vote.

Earlier this month, the original conference was adjourned before new leaders could be elected after allegations that membership figures were inflated, and that there were several “ghost” delegates.

Booysen said, however, the Marikana killings could be used against Zuma during the upcoming leadership contest.

“When the chips are down... one doesn't make mistakes like Marikana, those are going to be politically exploited,” Booysen said.

“In the general run-up to Mangaung, it could be Polokwane-reinvented. When the ANC smelt blood with 1/8former ANC president Thabo 3/8 Mbeki, it doesn't matter what he did in government, they paraded it as major mistakes.

“If a contest between 1/8deputy president Kgalema 3/8 Motlanthe and Zuma materialised, these things are going to be pulled out, paraded out there as evidence that Zuma... was quite a weak leader.”

Matshiqi dismissed suggestions that Marikana played any role, but said the disqualification of some party branches from voting was more significant.

“If what the chairperson of the region said is anything to go by, what might have had most of the impact are the branches that are disqualified.

“In his (the chairman's) view, the margin would have been wider and in his favour if the disqualified branches were allowed to participate. I don't know if that is the case,” Matshiqi said.

The Eastern Cape provincial executive committee issued a statement on Monday congratulating the newly elected leaders, while calling on the region to work together.

“Now that the conference is over, we invite all ANC branches in the region to bury pre-conference excitement based on personal preferences for the elections in order to work together to build the ANC,” spokesman Mlibo Qoboshiyane said.

He called for branches to “return to basics” and show unity.

“Unity and cohesion must guide us as we are drawing close to 1

October 2012, where branches will be allowed to express their leadership preferences ahead of our conference in Mangaung,” he said.

However, Matshiqi warned: “The battle for, or against, Jacob Zuma in that region is still going to be fierce given the fact that these regions are still going to nominations conferences in October.”

Nominations for the ANC elective conference open officially in October. - Sapa