Jockeying for a head start in the race to succeed Ace Magashule as the leader of the ANC in the Free State has begun in earnest.

Two candidates are emerging as early contenders‚ MEC for sports‚ arts and culture Mathabo Leeto and MEC for police‚ roads and transport Sam Mashinini. Both were reportedly endorsed by Magashule at a funeral last week.

In a report in City Press on Sunday‚ anonymous ANC insiders described Leeto as a Magashule loyalist‚ a label that the MEC says is problematic.

"I never joined Magashule‚ I joined the ANC. So my loyalty is to the ANC. I respect leaders elected by the majority of ANC members‚ but I am not a loyalist of anybody‚" she said on Tuesday.

"Just because I serve under a leader‚ it does not mean I am a loyalist to that person."

Leeto backed Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to take over as president of the party at the national conference held in December.

"Indeed I supported a woman when we went to national conference. I did not support NDZ [Dlamini-Zuma] because she is a woman only. I supported her because I believe she is a tried and tested leader of the ANC and it was also time‚" she said.

"It is a policy of the ANC that women also have a right to lead in the ANC."

Leeto herself was among the first women to be elected as a regional chair of the ANC in 2011 and is a member of the ANC Women’s League national executive committee. In her 18 or more years in politics‚ she has served as a ward councillor‚ an executive mayor and is currently the deputy president of the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco).

She said she was ready to take on the position of provincial chair.

"The campaign is on now. I have been approached by many branches‚ especially in my region‚ to avail myself to contest for the position of provincial chair of the ANC. I am ready."

Magashule will be forced to resign after his election as secretary-general‚ which is a full-time job and will require his presence at Luthuli House.

Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza may well serve out his term after being elected deputy president of the ANC. He does not have to be based at party headquarters. If he is forced to vacate the position of premier‚ community safety MEC Pat Ngomane has been pegged as his likely successor.

Other vacancies that need to be filled include the position of Gauteng co-operative governance MEC Paul Mashatile. A new ANC Youth League deputy president must also be chosen.

In the Free State‚ the party is without leadership after court rulings nullified the provincial executive committee in 2017‚ which means that new leadership will have to be chosen soon. The matter was expected to be discussed at the national executive committee meeting scheduled for Wednesday.

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