Voters in Eastern Cape are deeply divided: as many as 80% could vote for Motlanthe (right) in a run-off against Zuma (left).
Yet the near 100% support for Zuma from KwaZulu-Natal gives him a head start over his rivals – Kgalema Motlanthe and Tokyo Sexwale – behind whom the "Anyone but Zuma" (ABZ) campaign is throwing its support. Even if Eastern Cape swings fully behind Motlanthe and Sexwale, the ABZ faction still has a mountain to climb in its bid for sweeping changes in the ANC's national leadership.
Headline events could help their cause. Opposition supporters believe that the mounting criticism of Zuma's handling of the shooting of 34 miners at Marikana in North West Province, many of whom were from Eastern Cape, will have a huge impact.
Anti-Zuma activists claim they have seen a surge of support in North West since the massacre. Other ANC activists concede it is difficult to absolve others in the party and trade union leadership of responsibility for the failings that led to the killings at Marikana.
More widely, there is a sense of disarray in the national and provincial structures of the ANC – despite the party's continued dominance of the political scene in South Africa. Internal strife within the party is a far more serious threat than any of the current opposition formations or ANC breakaway factions such as the Congress of the People (COPE), established in 2008.
Because of the province's political history and influence, ANC officials are worried about the state of the ruling party in the Eastern Cape. "Unity and cohesion are paramount objectives we should work on ... This province must again occupy its rightful place in the national politics of the country. We must earn this and work harder," says ANC provincial secretary Oscar Mabuyane.
Unity and cohesion are paramount objectives we should work on
Easier said than done. The province has had a history of factions fighting to promote their preferred candidates – and to take their opponents out of contention. The battle for votes reached fever pitch in the Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan municipality ('metro') in mid-August.
Then Zanoxolo Wayile, the mayor of the metro, which incorporates Port Elizabeth, was held hostage at the ANC provincial headquarters by supporters of Nceba Faku, the ANC regional chairman – though the party denies this. Faku is a bitter rival of Wayile, and his earlier election as the head of the ANC in the metro came amid widespread
allegations of vote buying.
According to Mandla Rayi, provincial secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu): "I can guarantee you that they [Nelson Mandela metro ANC] will get rid of Wayile. Maybe by the time you publish the report he won't be there."
President Zuma's fortunes in Eastern Cape have suffered a sharp reversal with his loss of support in both the Nelson Mandela Bay and OR Tambo regions. The news of Thandekile Sabisa's re-election as chair of OR Tambo ANC in August is also bad news for Zuma and his supporters. Sabisa had been campaigning as the leader of a party faction known as 'Forces for Change.'
These are more than symbolic losses. OR Tambo, which incorporates the former Transkei homeland, is the ANC's second-largest region in South Africa after eThekwini in KwaZulu-Natal. It will provide 70% of the delegates from Eastern Cape who will vote in the ANC leadership election at Mangaung.
To make matters worse, Zuma's supporters in the Eastern Cape party leadership have been accused of tampering with voting procedures. The ANC's elective conference in OR Tambo had been scheduled for 3-6 August, but was unceremoniously adjourned, apparently on the orders of the provincial party leadership.
Officials said the electoral authorities had discovered that 591 delegates had votes but only 587 had been formally accredited, leading to talk of "ghost" delegates. Rival factions in the party blamed each other for the mess. Eastern Cape ANC Youth League (ANCYL) secretary Mzonke Ndabeni claimed the provincial leadership had stopped proceedings when it realised that anti-Zuma candidates had won the polls.
So important was the worsening crisis in Eastern Cape that it promp- ted an emergency meeting of the top six politicians in the national party: President Zuma, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, Secretary General Gwede Mantashe, Deputy Secretary General Thandi Modise, Chairwoman Baleka Mbete and Treasurer General Mathews Phosa.
The top six intervened in an effective rebuke for the pro-Zuma leadership in Eastern Cape, ordering the elective conference in OR Tambo to be rerun on 24-26 August. They also called for more national executive committee (NEC) members to be sent to the region to ensure free and fair voting. In the event the 'Anyone But Zuma' faction won the OR Tambo region by a narrow margin.
DIVIDED THEY STAND
Jubilant at this victory, the 'ABZ' activists claimed that they had stopped attempts to undermine the party's democratic processes after officials had presided over a comprehensive flouting of party rules. The disputes over party elections in OR Tambo follow similar rows in Mpumlalanga and the Free State, where the election of officials backing Zuma was challenged. In the Free State the dispute is still before the courts.
It will be divided, yes. There are local dynamics, where people are fighting for space and opportunities
ANC and trade union leaders in the Eastern Cape concede that the party will go divided to the Mangaung conference, but some play down the issue. Says ANC provincial secretary Oscar Mabuyane: "It will be divided, yes. There are local dynamics, where people are fighting for space and opportunities. But that is in its very nature. The ANC is contested terrain." Cosatu's Mandla Rayi agrees. "It is a divided province ... but there are always interest groups in any organisation."
Mabuyane told The Africa Report that there might not even be a leadership contest in Mangaung, suggesting that Zuma could be re-elected unopposed. Certainly, Deputy President Motlanthe is proving a very cautious challenger to Zuma.
Motlanthe's supporters say he is determined to make the leadership debate a matter of principle not personality. The more flamboyant Sexwale has been far less restrained in his pointed criticism of the incumbent party leadership. Relations between Motlanthe and Sexwale remain rather opaque, as does their strategy for the Mangaung conference.
Yet Zuma's re-election campaign is in trouble in the Eastern Cape. At least four regions – OR Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Cacadu and Buffalo City – have voted in leaders who oppose a second term for Zuma as ANC President.
All this comes as the Eastern Cape ANC is still slowly recovering from the effects of the breakaway of COPE in 2008 following Mbeki's defeat at Polokwane. According to Zandisile Qupe, ANC regional secretary for the Nelson Mandela metro, "When COPE was formed, the ANC in the metro lost its entire top leadership and had to start from scratch. In 2008 it was left with 10,000 members and now four years later we have got it back to 24,000 members."
COPE, however, has functioned poorly as an opposition party, and lost votes during the last municipal elections. The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) is taking renewed hope from COPE's retreat and the ANC's in-fighting. The provincial assembly in the former Ciskei capital of Bhisho has 63 seats, of which the ANC has 44, COPE has nine and the DA just six.
But provincial DA leader Bobby Stevenson remains optimistic. "The DA won 40% of the vote in the last Nelson Mandela Bay municipal elections, and we are convinced we can win it next time round. We have gone from six councillors DA leader Bobby Stevenson to 16 in the old Transkei during the last local elections and went from 100 to 178 councillors province-wide."
Stevenson claims voters are tired of what he calls the ANC's "hand-outs" approach, and that they recognise the failure of the party's cadre-deployment policy to ensure that the right people are in the right jobs in Eastern Cape government. "I am confident we can take the province. Maybe not in 2014, but certainly in 2019."
He believes a large percentage of that vote will come from younger Xhosa speakers. With the party polling just 225,000 votes in the Eastern Cape in the last general election in 2009 compared with the ANC's 1.5m, there is much work ahead.
Zuma has deployed heavyweight politicians such as Secretary General Gwede Mantashe to the province and other senior officials have presided over visits to "donate" cattle and tractors as the Mangaung conference nears.
With ANC delegates in KwaZulu-Natal unanimously behind Zuma, his strategists calculate that if they get just half of the Eastern Cape delegates' vote they would still be set for victory.
With the loss of four regions in the province that forecast might now be questionable. Add to that a growing mood of scepticism over Zuma's leadership, doubts about the government's ability to deal with unemployment and worsening social divisions, and it seems the ANC leadership battle has been thrown wide open again●