Only time will tell who among former president Jacob Zuma's diehards will stand by ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule to the bitter end.
The ANC’s elective conference at the end of next year has seen the various opposing factions within the party jockeying for position in what insiders say could be one of the most brutal yet of the five-year summit gatherings.
Talk is that the 2022 version could be as game-changing as the one in Polokwane in 2007, which brought former president Jacob Zuma to power – or the Nasrec one in 2017, which effectively removed him.
There could be blood on the floor, say ANC sources. And there is a lot at stake. Polokwane proved that power is the main fuel in the ongoing factional battles within the ANC.
ALSO READ: Ramaphosa needs an Mbeki-esque reality check
Zuma dominated the stage for nine years after his victory against former president Thabo Mbeki in Polokwane, but since Nasrec, President Cyril Ramaphosa has been in full control of both the country and party – he is likely to win over some from the Zuma camp to his side.
Time will make it clear who among the Zuma diehards will stand by suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule to the bitter end.
Will they be forced, like Jesus’ disciple Peter, to denounce Zuma three times before the proverbial crowing of the rooster?
Zuma’s former foot-soldiers and defenders, such Deputy President David Mabuza, ANC national chair Gwede Mantashe, national executive committee (NEC) members Fikile Mbalula, Naledi Pandor, Lindiwe Zulu, Thulas Nxesi and Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula have already found no problem in crossing over to the Ramaphosa side.
Magashule, Ramaphosa’s main rival, had been put in isolation, paving the way for Ramaphosa to consolidate his power.
READ MORE: Is there any way for Cyril and Ace to save this toxic relationship?
As secretary-general, Magashule was in unique position to manipulate things to his advantage as the one who determines which piece on the chessboard of party branches must move or stay.
Indeed, he deployed his allies to lead parliamentary executives structures – as whips and portfolio committee members.
They drove the legislative process and oversight of the executive, which is led by Ramaphosa.
This meant that Zuma diehards, such as Supra Mahumapelo, Faith Muthambi and Mosebenzi Zwane, actually oversaw Ramaphosa and his Cabinet’s work as portfolio committee chairs.
The entire period prior to the December 2022 conference could see the party tension rising to its highest level rendering the Polokwane infighting and beyond, child’s play.
But the real question about next year’s gathering is whether it will be as close as Nasrec that in 2017 came to a 50:50 stalemate.
Sources say the indications are, though, that the divided Nasrec outcome will not be repeated.
ALSO READ: ‘NEC rushing to implement step aside guidelines that are lacking
The leading lights in the RET (radical economic transformation) camp, such as Zuma and Magashule, both facing corruption charges, have their powers trimmed and have been isolated by the judicial process. Magashule further faces a life in political oblivion or even expulsion if he continues to defy the party’s “step-aside” rule.
As was always the case where the stakes are high, the weaker faction might emerge more bruised causing some to change allegiances and join their opponents.
The stronger faction, on the other hand, would be the beneficiary as the battle weary members from the weaker camp file to their side so as not to miss the power gravy train.
The period towards the ANC 2022 conference will be characterised by widespread finger-pointing from both camps – and that pattern has begun to form during the step-aside tensions. Ramaphosa in the last few weeks began to openly attack Magashule, while Mbeki, now believed to be aligned to Ramaphosa, has opened the files against the Zuma camp – publicly raising issues around the damage caused since Polokwane.
The RET group used the Zuma trial to attack the Ramaphosa-led ANC NEC.
READ MORE: All Zuma and Ace did was fight for the black child, says Free State RET Forces
The faces of the RET, such as Ekurhuleni mayor and ANC regional chair Mzwandile Masina, Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association spokesman Carl Niehaus, ANC NEC member, Tony Yengeni and Magashule, continue the onslaught on Twitter.
The allegations of corruption against Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, who is not necessarily a Ramaphosa ally, could complicate the president’s battle plan against the RET clique.
The president has to be seen acting against his own – as he did with his suspended aide, Khusela Diko, whose disciplinary process was watched with interest by Ramaphosa’s opponents. Diko and former Gauteng Health MEC, Dr Bandile Masuku had been absolved of wrongdoing by the ANC Gauteng in personal protective equipment scandal.