Battle lines are increasingly being drawn in the epic battle for the soul of the ANC as opposing factions openly go for each other’s throats in a blazing war of words over President Jacob Zuma.

Reports has it that, Free State Premier Ace Magashule – known for his strong support for Zuma – wasted no time in using the government-sponsored 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children campaign to call on the president’s critics to leave the ANC.

Speaking on the same podium as a pensive Zuma in Bethlehem, Magashule vowed Zuma “will finish his term” as president in apparent reference to a dramatic vote of no-confidence (which did not succeed) brought by senior party leader Derek Hanekom at the national executive committee meeting in Pretoria recently.

In a separate event in Joburg yesterday, SACP general secretary and Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande upped the ante, saying he was not scared of losing his job as he was a minister to serve the nation and not political interests.

Nzimande lashed out at slates and factions within the ANC and said Zuma should not be seen to side with factions. He said whoever succeeded Zuma as ANC leader in December next year should ban slates or risk inheriting a “shell organisation”.

He also called on the ANC to reconsider its election campaigning strategy if it wanted to stay relevant to the current generation.

“Many don’t even care who was in MK, who was underground. They want to know what’s happening now.”

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has received endorsements from Cosatu and the SACP to succeed Zuma, while a faction aligned to the president – led by the premiers of the North West, Free State and Mpumalanga, as well as the ANC women’s and youth leagues are said to be backing AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

These ANC succession dynamics were openly visible in Bethlehem where supporters were provided with ANC Women’s League regalia, including ANC embroiled umbrellas. Lindiwe Makhalemele, mayor of Dihlabeng local municipality in Bethlehem, was the first of the women to mount an attack on Zuma detractors, calling on the people of the Free State to stand up against all those opposed to him.

ANCWL president Bathabile Dlamini and her deputy, Sisi Ntombela, supported Zuma in song.

They asked musician Tebogo Moloi to sing Ntate Theola moya (President, calm down, we are in support of you).

The support for Zuma was also displayed by other provinces at the event, such as KwaZulu-Natal, the North West, Limpopo and the Northern Cape.

But it was Magashule who was most scathing about Zuma’s detractors: “He will finish his term. We voted for him to become president. We voted for him as the ANC and the nation to lead this country and he will finish his term,” he said adamantly.

“I am not undermining our past presidents but Jacob Zuma is the first president of the country who visited the rural parts of the Free State. Our people were complaining that their past presidents just drove past their places and had never visited.”

He told the gathering to stand against people such as Hanekom, labelling them artificial leaders.

“Those that want the president to step down must sit down and allow us to continue working for the ANC. They should pack their bags and leave the ANC.

“Zuma fought for our freedom.”

Political Bureau