ANC presidential hopeful Zweli Mkhize used his time on the campaign trail to call for unity in the party and champion the need for radical economic transformation.

Mkhize was elevated to the position of ANC treasurer-general at the party’s last elective conference in Mangaung in 2014. Back then, his province‚ KwaZulu-Natal‚ was backing him for the position and its support paid dividends.

However, this time Mkhize is angling for the highest position in the ruling party but is not enjoying as much support from his home province.

In KwaZulu-Natal’s provincial general council‚ Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma took 433 branches and Cyril Ramaphosa 193; Mkhize received six nominations. The will of the province will be crucial in the race for ANC president as it has the largest number of delegates at the party’s elective conference, starting on Saturday.

Mkhize warned ANC branches that the conference was not about electing a new party president but about preparations for winning the 2019 elections with a "good majority". "When we go to the conference we must not go there as people who are heading for a fight‚" he said in one of his speeches.

He has also not been shy to talk about radical economic transformation‚ also championed by Dlamini-Zuma. His campaign has targeted a diverse audience that included religious and traditional leaders‚ black professionals and political youth organisations.

In an interview with City Press newspaper he described himself as neither anti-Zuma nor Zuma’s pawn‚ a posture which has permeated many of his speeches.

Mkhize made calls for the ANC to use its 54th national conference to restore the confidence and dignity of all South Africans. "We must look at our leaders and make sure we get the best the ANC can offer among ourselves, and then take the ANC forward‚" he said.

"We need to correct our politics. It must be politics of service delivery. We look at how you work with our people ... We don’t want you because you belong to my faction‚ which will protect you even when you are doing wrong‚" he told a crowd of ANC supporters last week in Soweto.

He explained to the crowd in IsiZulu why the December conference needed to look into radical economic transformation. "The economy has to return to hands of black people so that we can be able to enjoy economic independence ... You need a strong and united ANC to champion .. radical economic transformation‚" he told councillors in Soweto.

"Without the ANC‚ we are not going to become anything in SA. The ANC is the reason we have a hope that tomorrow will be better. The ANC‚ therefore‚ needs to survive the conference and be stronger after [it]. The delegates have the responsibility to make sure .. that the conference does not break in their hands. The ANC cannot break because of the ANC."

In his campaign he emphasised that leaders in the party needed to understand they lead on behalf of the people. Leaders‚ he said‚ needed to respect those who elected them, and also themselves. He urged delegates attending the elective conference to refuse to be bought. "If someone wants to buy your vote with cash‚ you must tell them the ANC is not for sale."

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