Dren Nupen of the Elexions Agency, which is running the ANC’s 2017 elective conference, stands near the stage, microphone in hand. Her hair is bundled in a loose, silvery knot on the top of her head.

She is wearing a white and blue Elexions Agency bib over her dress. "Quiet comrades, you need to hear these nominations," she shouts into the microphone over the din in the dimly lit marquee, erected for the Mpumalanga ANC provincial general council in Nelspruit last week.

It was Nupen who stood on stage delivering the final results in a similar but much larger marquee in a muddy, wet Polokwane in 2007, announcing to the ANC and the world that Jacob Zuma was the new ANC president.

And here we are again.

She and her team will once again preside over the ANC’s election process.

An insider’s assessment is that the agency is effective and fair. But, says the ex-agency staffer who chose to remain anonymous, "systems are only as good as the people implementing them".

The election process run by the agency is pretty straightforward. Manipulation can and often does come from the party itself.

The gruelling five-yearly marathon that has captured the attention of SA and the international community, comes down to one conclusion: it all hangs on the decision of individual voting delegates who will be responsible for electing the party’s future leaders. This is a process which not only has a bearing on the party but on the country, as the victors are likely to lead SA.

The voting process is intricate, as is the method of selecting the 5,240 members qualified to cast their votes. While provinces have consolidated branch nominations at general councils and pronounced on nominees to the conference, the voting is still left to eligible individuals.

Red flags have been raised about vote-buying, which has come to characterise ANC elective processes. The most the leaders can do is warn against this practice as it delegitimises its autonomy and the supposed powers of the branches which are represented by those voters sent to the conference.

Day one will be spent on the adoption of rules and credentials as well as Jacob Zuma’s final political report as outgoing ANC president. The credentials section is often a lengthy fight over who is entitled to be there.

A provincial secretary joked that we could see the credentials fight go on till Christmas. But this time it was decided to pre-register delegates in their provinces so most disputes could be dealt with there.

Secretary-general Gwede Mantashe will deliver the organisational report. A financial report is also expected.

Voting for the officials and the members of the national executive committee (NEC) is to take place on days two, three and four — after potential constitutional amendments are discussed. These could swell the top-six structure from six to nine members. The NEC members, 50% of whom must be women, will be announced on the last day.

One crucial constitutional amendment to be voted on aims to allow for the losing presidential candidate to be nominated for the post of deputy president. This idea was first proposed at the ANC’s 2015 national general council in a bid to break the power of "slate" politics. If adopted, it will be the first time officials are elected separately, with nominations from the floor reopened each time.

The stakes are high for the positions where 90% of the votes will stem from branch delegates. The rest will be from the party’s leagues, provincial executive committees, the national executive committee and ex-officio members.

In under two weeks, the 16-member ANC electoral commission headed by veteran Sindiso Mfenyana would have prepared ballot papers, made provisions for secret voting, and ensured systems are in place for the manual counting of ballots and its supervision. The commission is also responsible for establishing voting procedures and resolving any disputes.

On what should happen if fears of the conference collapsing come true, the ANC constitution is mum. But for now the schedule is set.

On December 20 the ANC’s new president will be delivering his or her first closing address as head of the party. It remains to be seen if it will be for better or for worse.

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