There are growing fears that entrenched factions and slate politics have the potential to destroy the African National Congress (ANC).

Currently, seven presidential candidates are vying for the party’s top post with two slates belonging to presidential hopefuls Cyril Ramaphosa and Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma already had been circulated to the branches.

With just over a month to the governing party’s elective congress, factional battles are playing themselves out with three provinces now in courts over the outcomes of their conferences. This has elicited fears that factionalism will be deeply entrenched leading to the conference.

The ANC leadership contest in Polokwane 10 years ago came with the promise of a stronger ANC able to better guide government and a united tripartite alliance.  However, the 2007 ANC elective conference also introduced the phenomenon of slate politics in the ANC body politics.

The winner takes all approach was applied with President Jacob Zuma’s slate occupying all top six official positions while the losing team was overlooked. This precipitated the formation of the Congress of the People (COPE).

Fast-forward to  2017, the culture of slate is in full force. With another elective conference just a month away, factions are entrenched, with the ANC Youth League being the first to nail its colours to the mast.

“The ANCYL has debated on this leadership question and believes that comrades that must lead the organisation are as follows; Comrade Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as President of the ANC, David Mabuza as the deputy president of the ANC, Ace Magashule as the Secretary General and the Treasurer General comrade Maite Nkoana-Mashabane,” says ANCYL  secretary general Njabulo Nzuza announcing their preferred team.

The other side is also not relenting with deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa having his own team in mind. ANC Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa says: ”Let’s support Comrade Senzo Mchunu to be SG, Naledi Pandor as deputy president of the ANC, Gwede Mantashe as the Chairperson and Paul Mashatile as the Treasurer General of the ANC.”

Slates have since 2007 been identified as one of the negative tendencies fracturing the organisation. Amongst others, the practice is seen as taking away the democratic right of the branches to choose who to lead them in what positions. For his part, President Jacob Zuma has been calling for a woman president and even openly campaigning for Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. He however has spoken out against the zero-sum winner takes all approach.

“If we look at our history a strong feeling about my candidate so very strong that it is strong than my feeling to the ANC it can’t be right. The experience of Polokwane saw a very good crop of leaders leaving the ANC and forming an organisation. Let us not get rid of the one who did  not win let us make the one who is number two be the deputy – this will make sure that the two factions come together and work together on the two leaders that want to lead the organisation. ”

President Zuma’s sentiments are echoed by Gauteng ANC Provincial Chairperson Paul Mashatile who says they are open to negotiate any position in the top six except for the one for president.

“Gauteng ANC Chairperson Paul Mashatile says: ” Consensus mean we can agree on a particular positions and in consensus you must be prepared to give in  to say I have been nominated for this position but I can make way for this comrade. So by no means nominations are cast in stone but you have to also respect the views of the branches so we don’t want the branches to say everything we wanted is been thrown away.”

For the first time in its 105 year history, the ANC is facing an unprecedented number of candidates. At least seven candidates are vying for the party’s top job with deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and former AU Commission Chair Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma appearing as the early front-runners. Other contenders include Dr Zweli Mkhize, Lindiwe Sisulu, Jeff Radebe, Mathews Phosa and Baleka Mbete.

Political analyst Professor Steven Friedman says the contestation must be better managed to avoid a further split. Political analyst Friedman says: ‘‘Unless the factions are persuaded, and come to a compromise, there’ s a real  possibility of split because people will take each other to court. They may only be able solve the problem if they split positions one faction get half and the other gets half.”

For now nominations are well underway and it’s a race against time to see who the branches will pick as the next ANC president, and probably the country’s commander in chief come 2019.