President Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe at the 53rd ANC elective conference on Sunday in Mangaung. Picture: ANC MEDIA PIX
President Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe at the 53rd ANC elective conference on Sunday in Mangaung. Picture: ANC MEDIA PIX

DELEGATES to the African National Congress’s Mangaung elective conference face a clear choice between a group of leaders associated with Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and a group linked to President Jacob Zuma.

None of the nominees for the top six leadership positions announced on Monday are on both lists. This shows not only that there are two distinct factions within the party, but also proves, once again, the victory of the "slates" system. The result could be a harbinger of very real turmoil within the ANC for years to come.

Mr Motlanthe’s group, comprising Mathews Phosa, Thandi Modise and Fikile Mbalula, was nominated for several positions. From the way Mr Motlanthe and the other three have declined nominations to several positions, it is clear that their real message is that they refuse to serve as deputies to anyone on the Zuma slate. In essence, they want the top jobs or nothing.

Mr Motlanthe is the prime example. Nominated for both president and deputy president, he declined the latter to set up a winner-takes-all contest with Mr Zuma. Ms Modise and Mr Mbalula did the same with the post of deputy secretary-general.

The political message sent to Mr Zuma is simple: they don’t want anything to do with him.

Should Mr Motlanthe lose this contest, as seems likely, it could lead to suggestions that he should no longer serve as South Africa’s deputy president. Should the national executive committee elected at this conference — a committee that is likely to be heavily weighted with Zuma supporters — decide he is no longer fit for that post, he could be recalled.

This, in turn, could lead to another period of turmoil within the ANC.

A more serious long-term implication, however, which would only become apparent over the next few years, is that the use of slates has become so entrenched in the ANC that it is impossible to eradicate.

In short, a slate refer to a group of leaders who run for various positions as one political bloc. It is an effective campaigning tool, but it means one group of people wins everything that is at stake. There is nothing left for the loser. Historically, this has seen the loser go away and regroup to lead the fight the next time around.

Mr Motlanthe has spoken against this several times since the Polokwane national conference in 2007, but the success of slates as a campaigning tool seems to have persuaded Mr Zuma otherwise.

Mr Motlanthe’s decision could be to make the point that slates are unhealthy for the ANC.

However, should Mr Zuma win, with Mr Motlanthe no longer in the top six, he can ensure that he is treated well. He could, for example, ensure that Mr Motlanthe has no reason for fear for his government position. He could also use his political influence to make sure the incoming national executive committee contains several prominent members of the Motlanthe faction.

Still, fixing the problem of slates may be beyond even Mr Zuma’s considerable political power.

• Grootes is an Eyewitness News reporter