Uncertainty reigns as we approach home straight of ANC leadership race

More than a week ago members of Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) released a statement calling on President Thabo Mbeki to withdraw from the ANC leadership race.

More than a week ago members of Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) released a statement calling on President Thabo Mbeki to withdraw from the ANC leadership race.

"By being part of the race comrade Mbeki is creating a conflictual (sic) situation where the president of the party is not the same as that of the country," read the statement.

Media reports have revealed that the veterans are still awaiting a meeting with Mbeki to personally appeal to him to withdraw from the race.

The MK veterans want ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma to succeed Mbeki as both leader of the ANC and president of the country.

They believe that Msholozi has the political kudos to lead both the ANC and the country into a prosperous future.

"Comrade Zuma has served both the ANC and the country impeccably as deputy president,'' argue the veterans.

There is unfortunately the flip side to the veterans' position. This is the one held by Mbeki's supporters who want him to continue as president of the ANC. These supporters also want Mbeki to have a say over who is going to succeed him in 2009.

With the ANC's 52nd national conference only four weeks away, the two positions have turned comrades against each other as they strive to promote their favourite candidate ahead of the leadership race.

The stakes are high and knives are out. There are stories of cabinet ministers traversing the country attending branch meetings to convince ANC members not "to nominate someone who has had casual sex with the daughter of a comrade".

"We cannot have someone of such a questionable moral rectitude," the branch members are apparently told.

"Mbeki supporters, including most members of his current cabinet, are really dragging the name of comrade Zuma through the mud to gain support," says a die-hard Zuma supporter.

Last week there were reports about how police had to be called in Limpopo to restore order at an ANC branch meeting following clashes between Mbeki and Zuma supporters.

It is alleged that a group of Zuma supporters stormed the meeting and tore up the nomination list before those in attendance could make their nominations. The Zuma supporters allegedly argued that there was no need to nominate on that day because nominations had already been received at a previous gathering.

The Mbeki supporters were challenging the validity of the previous gathering - claiming that there was no quorum.

Most probably still indelible in most people's minds are the scenes of ANC Youth League and South African Student Congress members exchanging blows at the funeral of the late South African envoy to Indonesia, Norman Mashabane.

The ANCYL has officially come out in support of Zuma. The Sasco members involved in the funeral incident are known to be Mbeki supporters.

Where have all these developments left the chief protagonists in the whole political saga?

Trends show that Zuma has majority support in KwaZuluNatal. Mbeki has the majority of support in the Eastern Cape, but recent media reports have revealed that one of the province's largest regions, the OR Tambo region, endorses Zuma.

The Western Cape remains a hung province, with Mbeki getting support from provincial chairman James Ngculu, while Zuma is supported by provincial secretary Mcebisi Skwatsha.

More reports this week revealed that the majority of branches in Gauteng have come out in support of Zuma.

Given its metropolitan nature, Gauteng is traditionally a very shifty province when it comes to political positions.

This is because most of its residents have their roots outside Gauteng.

"When an ANC member from Limpopo who lives in Gauteng makes a decision on an issue, this will also be influenced by the position taken by his historical home," says a Gauteng ANC veteran.

If this argument holds any water, Gauteng's endorsing of Zuma is a huge psychological boost for his campaign.

This week the Mbeki campaign suffered another setback in North West - where some members of the ANC provincial executive committee called for provincial chairman and Premier Edna Molewa, to relinquish her positions.

The PEC members accuse her of appointing as MEC "a white farmer who closed down a school used by poor black children".

ANC insiders claim that the move to oust Molewa is the work of Zuma supporters who are angry about her support for Mbeki.

These developments seem to suggest that there is reason for Mbeki's supporters to be afraid.

The manner in which Zuma has been running his leadership campaign has led to a surge in the realm of public opinion.

For example, his supporters have thrown back the corruption allegations against Zuma at Mbeki, arguing that the charges are part of a political campaign to ensure that Msholozi does not become the president of the country.

Mbeki's axing of former deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge; his suspension of NPA head Vusi Pikoli - supposedly to protect police Commissioner Jackie Selebi - have given credence to the notion that he is prepared to use state apparatuses to deal with political opponents and protect allies.

Does this mean that Zuma will romp home, come voting time in Limpopo?

Not really. The future president of the ANC will be decided in a secret ballot.

Though delegates will go to Limpopo with branch mandates, come election time their vote will be secret.