THE Eastern Cape is proving to be a serious battle-ground, with campaign managers working hard to gain the backing of the African National Congress’s (ANC’s) second-biggest province ahead of the Mangaung conference.
It is one of the most hotly contested provinces as each camp — those campaigning for President Jacob Zuma’s second term and those supporting Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe — try to gain the upper hand.
With two weeks left before the ANC closes the process of nominating potential leaders ahead of next month’s election, both camps are claiming to have the biggest support in this province. This appears to be psychological warfare, as no group wants to be seen conceding that it may be losing.
Whoever gets the nod of most branches in this province will have a big boost ahead of Mangaung. The group campaigning for Mr Motlanthe may need the Eastern Cape’s support more as it will be almost impossible to get serious votes in Mangaung and win without the majority of Eastern Cape votes on its side.
For Mr Zuma’s campaigners, getting the Eastern Cape’s support will seal his victory as that will add to the overwhelming support he has already secured in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal. Mr Zuma also enjoys the backing of the majority of branches in Mpumalanga and the Free State.
While Mr Motlanthe may be nominated by the majority of branches in Limpopo, the Western Cape and Gauteng, Mr Zuma’s campaigners are not leaving anything to chance. They are diluting the support even in provinces like the Eastern Cape that were considered to be hostile to the idea of his re-election during the year.
ANC Eastern Cape provincial secretary Oscar Mabuyane says most of the branches that have met so far to discuss their Mangaung preference have chosen Mr Zuma.
He says 70% of those branches gave Mr Zuma the nod, with Mr Motlanthe getting 30%.
But campaigners in the opposite camp point out that Mr Mabuyane may be talking up his own interest, when in fact the contest was tighter than that. There is a history of campaign managers who believed their own spin and then got a rude awakening when their campaign failed in Polokwane.
An ANC Youth League leader says the "forces of change", who are campaigning for Mr Motlanthe’s election, will receive the most votes in the Eastern Cape. A meeting to consolidate all the branch votes will be held on November 30.
Mr Zuma has been a frequent visitor to the Eastern Cape in the past month, in what has been seen as a campaign for Mangaung votes. The leaders running his campaign are found mainly in the provincial executive committee, which has already taken a decision to back him for a second term.
"We have never been serviced so well as a province," says Mr Mabuyane, justifying the provincial committee’s endorsement of Mr Zuma’s bid. The ANC needs unity, which can only be achieved by re-electing Mr Zuma, with Mr Motlanthe as his deputy, he says.
But the Zuma campaign is being resisted on the ground. Regions in the B order area are also pushing for Mr Motlanthe to replace Mr Zuma, with Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale as his deputy. That is backed by branches in the former Transkei area.
Mr Motlanthe is also getting the backing of branches in Port Elizabeth. With less than 20 branches yet to meet, regional secretary Zandisile Qupe says it is too tight to call. Although the regional executive committee has decided to back Mr Zuma for a second term, some branches are nominating Mr Motlanthe.
Mr Zuma’s backers are claiming to have the support of leaders across the regions in the Transkei, but the "forces of change" camp, which backs Mr Motlanthe for the top job, is equally optimistic.
Mr Zuma’s campaigners have lost most regional elections held in the Eastern Cape this year. But they are now claiming to have turned things around in their favour and claim they will be able to "deliver" the votes for Mr Zuma come the Mangaung conference.
OR Tambo regional chairman Thandekile Sabisa, who is associated with the "forces of change" camp, warns that people are counting eggs before they have hatched. He is chairman of the biggest region in the Eastern Cape and the second-biggest region in South Africa after eThekwini, in KwaZulu-Natal.
Mr Sabisa says people should wait for all the branches to meet before declaring that Mr Zuma is leading. "It’s still too early to call," he says.