Wanted: A leader
AND so it came to be. The man who took on the erudite, aloof President Thabo Mbeki was crowned at the ANC 2007 elective conference in Polokwane.
Supported by what some described as a coalition of the aggrieved (a group of ANC leaders who felt marginalised by Mbeki) the then ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma took his first step to Mahlambandlopfu on a ticket of introducing a more radical ANC, which was in tune with the aspirations of the masses.
Supported by a coalition of forces, including the South African Communist Party, Zuma was presented as the man of the people who was going to close the social distance between the ruling party and the people.
It is now common knowledge that Zuma's route to Mahlambandlopfu was to a large extent assisted by Mbeki's decision to axe him as deputy president.
This was after Zuma's former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was convicted of fraud. Adding to his political woes, Zuma was charged with raping one of his comrades's daughters.
Following his acquittal on the rape charge and the ANC national general council botching up Mbeki and his supporters' attempts to strip him of his position as ANC deputy president, Zuma went on a "tsunami-like" campaign to oust his political foe.
Projecting himself as a victim of political machinations and a man in touch with the people, Zuma won the hearts of the most important constituency in the ANC - the branches.
Two years later - with his war song Umshini Wam - Zuma won the hearts of South African voters and eventually became president.
Fast forward to 2012. The ANC is now facing the same challenge, that of electing a leader who will "close the social distance between the party and the people".
In its own words the ANC has admitted that under Zuma's leadership it has been overwhelmed by the dangers of incumbency (including complacency, the use of political office for self-enrichment, factionalism and careerism) and the social distance between the people has actually widened.
As in 2007 whoever is elected in Mangaung will also have to be someone who will have to win the hearts and minds of South African voters in the 2014 general elections.
There are those who believe that with a little bit of nudging (which is what Cosatu's call for the Lula Moment is all about) the ANC under Zuma cannot only win the hearts of the electorate, but also deliver to the masses.
On the other hand there are those who argue that given the dismal state of the party and the country there is a need for a change in leadership.
They believe that the man known as Mkhuluwa (Kgalema Motlanthe) is the right candidate. He is the man provinces like Gauteng, Limpopo, Northern Cape and Western Cape are believed to be fully in support of as the next ANC president and the future president of the country come 2014.
As expected the debate is heated when it comes to whether Zuma should be given a second chance or whether Motlanthe should replace him.
Numbers are thrown around as part of the debate. For example, it has been suggested that Zuma's support in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga makes up 43% of the delegates expected in Mangaung.
Adding Northwest to the pot - with its 234 delegates Zuma's - support would be expected to be at least 50%.
But as one ANC leader has pointed out, these are mere speculations based on declarations of support by the provincial leadership of the various provinces.
The ultimate arbiters are the branches whose delegates will be voting in Mangaung. The fact that they will do so in a secret ballot further complicates the situation.
It is probably with this background in mind that there has been talk about "for the sake of a united ANC", a deal could be carved that will see Zuma retaining his position and Motlanthe remaining his deputy.
In the deal Motlanthe will become the country's president in 2014, while Zuma remains ANC president until 2019. ANC insiders claim this proposal arises from the fact that the majority of ANC leaders accept that Zuma is not a suitable candidate for the country's presidency.
"The feeling among some Zuma supporters is that he should be allowed to retain his dignity by remaining the party's leader," explained an ANC insider.
So far the deal remains hobbled by various concerns and developments within the ANC. For example, there are some ANC leaders - Motlanthe supporters - who are unhappy with the creation of two centres of power. These are the very people who cannot countenance having Zuma as the face of the ANC in the 2014 general election.
"It is important that as we make our selection of leaders in Mangaung we also take into consideration that party's position vis-a-vis 2014," an ANC Gauteng provincial leader said.
"Those who argue that we should retain Zuma as president and Motlanthe as his deputy should engage the issue of whether - given the current situation - Zuma would be the right face for the ANC 2014 election."
President Zuma has actually made several political misses that DA leader Helen Zille will make a meal of during her election campaign.
One of Zuma's political gaffes is his appointment of Menzi Simelane as NPA head despite a finding by the Ginwala Commission questioning his integrity.
Zuma's failure to apologise on behalf of the government for the Limpopo textbook saga - and blaming apartheid instead - was another political miss that has cost him dearly.
The death of 35 miners in the hands of his police is another major political dent he has suffered.
Then there is the multimillion upgrade of his Inkandla compound. Zuma and his government's response to the public uproar about the project has shown the kind of political ineptitude that could cost the ANC dearly in 2014. Zuma has not done himself any political favour by claiming he knows nothing about the cost of the upgrade because it's not him but the government that makes decisions in such projects.
Last week the ANC head of its political school Tony Yengeni alluded to the fact that the public is "obsessed with the ANC"."
Members of the public are interested to know who will be leading the party come 2014 - and whether in their view such a person has the integrity and even the political nous to lead this country into one that holds their aspirations dear.