Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. Picture: SUNDAY WORLD
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. Picture: SUNDAY WORLD

DEPUTY President Kgalema Motlanthe is the presidential candidate of a group campaigning for a change of leadership in the African National Congress (ANC), following a meeting of provincial leaders and campaign managers in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

Behind-the-scenes lobbying has reached fever pitch a month before the ANC allows candidates for national leadership positions to be nominated in preparation of its December conference.

Several sources in the party said yesterday that senior leaders from eight provinces, some serving in the national executive committee, met to thrash out a list of potential leaders.

The campaign managers will take the list to branches, the key structures nominating leaders for election at the conference.

The meeting was dominated by politicians associated with the Anyone But Zuma (ABZ) group, who also call themselves the "forces of change".

Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale has been the face of the ABZ campaign, speaking out around the country despite the party’s attempts to keep a lid on the succession debate.

Party leaders who attended the meeting, who did not want to be named, said they agreed that Mr Motlanthe would be the presidential candidate, with Mr Sexwale as his deputy president. Neither Mr Motlanthe nor Mr Sexwale were at the meeting.

The emergence of distinct leadership lists — called slates in the ANC — has been cited by the party’s leadership as the cause of lasting divisions.

Compared to the past, where ANC leaders were elected on a consensus basis, with lobbyists combining teams of the best leaders available, the slate system has been criticised for its "winner takes all" approach.

A team working to ensure the re-election of President Jacob Zuma as leader of the party is also finalising its candidate list.

An SMS doing the rounds in the party punts Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor as the next treasurer-general, replacing Mathews Phosa in a slate topped by Mr Zuma.

Mr Motlanthe is on Mr Zuma’s supporters’ slate as his deputy and Jessie Duarte is recommended to replace Thandi Modise as deputy secretary-general.

An ANC leader said yesterday that it was a "tragedy" that the lobbying groups had not by now settled on one list, to avert a bun fight at the conference that could weaken the party even further.

The 2007 Polokwane conference saw ANC leaders elected in a divisive ballot, with delegates unable to reach consensus.

Senior ANC leaders said yesterday that they were concerned that another bruising battle would leave the ANC paralysed. In the 2009 general elections and last year’s local government polls, the ANC’s majority was reduced — a result of the divisions following the 2007 conference, leaders said.

Sources who attended Wednesday night’s meeting, which ran into the early hours yesterday, said there was heated discussion about the list. While they agreed on Mr Motlanthe as presidential candidate, Mr Sexwale was up against Mr Phosa for the position of deputy president.

Mr Sexwale has done a lot of groundwork in the Eastern Cape, which resulted in an ABZ victory last month at the ANC OR Tambo region’s leadership elections.

A Zuma backer said yesterday that the decision on who would stand as Mr Motlanthe’s deputy was "the most crucial part of the campaign" and it had been "tearing people apart".

The jostling for positions in the change group could spark disunity among them.

There was also tension around the position of secretary-general, with supporters of Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula warding off a call to retain Gwede Mantashe.

Sources said another meeting was planned for Monday in Johannesburg, at which leaders from all the provinces would decide on the rest of the top six positions.