David Mabuza. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
David Mabuza. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa’s backers have poured cold water on Mpumalanga chairman David Mabuza’s push for "unity", dismissing the move as a play for the position of deputy president.

Mpumalanga ANC branches voted overwhelmingly in favour of "unity" instead of the two frontrunner candidates — Cyril Ramaphosa or Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — at their provincial general council on Friday.

Two members of the national executive committee and campaigners in three provinces, including Mpumalanga, told Business Day on Sunday that Mabuza’s move was designed to ensure him a post as deputy president when the party elects new leadership in two weeks.

Mabuza, speaking on the sidelines of the Mpumalanga council, said it was not about positions, but rather about ensuring the ANC remained intact after the conference.

He also told Business Day that he had not yet held one-on-one meetings with either of the top-two candidates for the position of president.

Campaigners for Ramaphosa have also downplayed Mabuza’s influence in the province saying he may not actually have the hold over delegates that he thinks he does.

A member of the national executive committee said that delegates in the province were not showing their hand for "fear of victimisation".

"That man [Mabuza] made a big mistake by saying he owns the people, saying they will go where he wants them to go. By saying you are king maker suggests that you are leading stooges, [who] will turn where you turn and [it is] also assuming you are the only person working on the ground. He will be surprised," said the leader, who wished to remain anonymous.

Another said that Mabuza wanted the post of deputy president in what is shaping up to be a close race, which is why he preferred not to pronounce on which way he would go yet.

Campaigners linked to Dlamini-Zuma were confident on Sunday that in the end they would have Mabuza’s backing.

ANC ally Cosatu — the first to come out in Ramaphosa’s support — said last week that leaders in the party could not preach unity when they were invested in the leadership race.

Those comments came after President Jacob Zuma, on Monday at a meeting with provincial chairmen, secretaries and candidates, came out strongly in support of "unity", urging parties to seek consensus.

Mabuza described his conceptualisation of "unity" as meaning a consensus leadership, but would not say which presidential candidate would be the face of that.

"If we [are] saying we must put the unity of the organisation first, that means … the leadership that we [are] going to elect will be achieved through consensus. We [are] not going to contest one another," Mabuza said.

The consequences of contestation were dire, he said.

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