Protest marches against President Jacob Zuma, a court case to ensure a secret ballot can be used to decide his fate in a parliamentary motion of no confidence and a mooted special national executive committee (NEC) meeting of the ANC are all at play in the short game to unseat him.

The longer-term game, however, will hinge on revitalising the governing party at its national elective conference in December by ensuring that the Zuma faction, along with its patronage politics, is dealt a death blow through new leadership.

As it stands, Zuma’s faction is miles ahead. The campaign of his candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, is well under way, while Cyril Ramaphosa seems to be far behind.

In an illuminating address at an ANC cadres forum in the Free State last week, Dlamini-Zuma pinned down Zuma’s "radical economic transformation" as her campaign ticket. She lashed out at Model C schools for campaigning against the ANC, saying: "They are taught, it’s us versus the ANC ... this is why they think colonialism is good". It was a message of paranoia and divisiveness that could have come from Zuma himself.

On the surface, Dlamini-Zuma enjoys the support of the ANC Women’s League, the North West province, the Free State and sections of KwaZulu Natal — the party’s largest province, but one which is heavily divided.

Ramaphosa still has the support of the party in Gauteng and of two important ANC allies, the Congress of SA Trade Unions and the SA Communist Party.

Even though Dlamini-Zuma seems to be ahead, there is still much behind-the-scenes manoeuvring by those in the Zuma faction who are a little wary of her as a candidate.

Some Zuma supporters have mooted finance minister Malusi Gigaba as a possible candidate for the party presidency. Others include policy chief Jeff Radebe, and a counter to Dlamini-Zuma on the gender ticket is human settlements minister Lindiwe Sisulu.

ANC chairmen, the power brokers in the battle, continue to meet privately and are talking about options to ensure the party remains united — even after a leadership battle.

The Financial Mail has learnt that in this spirit, ANC insiders are now looking at a third option — the unity ticket.

Details are fuzzy, but it seems this would entail expanding the top six leadership of the party to nine. Another option would be for the losing candidate for the party’s presidency to automatically become the deputy president.

Zweli Mkhize, the ANC treasurer who is seen as a dark horse in the race or a possible deputy to Ramaphosa, is punting this "unity option". He believes it is critical for the ANC to unite if it is to reverse its declining fortunes ahead of the 2019 national election.

The policy conference in June is set to provide a clearer sense of the balance of forces within the party. Meanwhile, ANC MPs are being lobbied by opposition parties (as well as factions within their own party) to "vote with their conscience" in the motion of no confidence in Zuma.

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa has approached the constitutional court to ensure a secret ballot can be held. This, it is hoped, will make it easier for ANC MPs to put the national interest before the party.

But any ANC vote against Zuma will be seen as a betrayal from within. Two weeks ago, the party’s national working committee decided that no ANC MP should vote against the party president.

Holomisa’s attorney, Eric Mabuza, says final heads of argument will be filed by Friday and the court will then decide when the matter will be heard.

In recent days, two huge protests were held to persuade the ANC to recall its president or force Zuma to resign. This led ANC MP Mathole Motshekga to call for a special NEC meeting to discuss this rising tide of anger.

It is understood this position is supported by a number of NEC members opposed to Zuma. A special NEC meeting could recall Zuma before the motion of no confidence — but it will be up to the party’s national officials to decide whether to call such a meeting. And those officials — Zuma, Ramaphosa, Mkhize, secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, his deputy Jessie Duarte and chair Baleka Mbete — are split down the middle.

For now, Zuma looks unassailable. But then again, so did Thabo Mbeki months before he was ousted at the ANC’s Polokwane conference in 2007.

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