Johannesburg — The big debates, town-hall meetings, clever slogans and big campaign issues - you will never see any of these in an ANC election battle. No, South Africa's ruling party wants candidates who are humble and almost surprised by their own popularity. You can knock your opponents out with skulduggery and underground campaigns, but openly declaring your candidacy is the original sin in the ANC. Mangaung has in fact seen the rise of "the anti-campaign".
Government was meant to announce on Friday that e-tolling would go ahead. The announcement has now been postponed until after a meeting between the inter-ministerial committee and Cosatu, which is fiercely opposed to the user-pay method. Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, who chairs the committee, has been holding a series of consultations with stakeholders in order to bridge agreement on the controversial issue.
No matter how much Cosatu and other civil society groups kick and scream about it, e-tolling will eventually have to go ahead as there is no other way to finance the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project. The man who the public will now associate with the introduction of e-tolling is also the man many are banking on to unseat President Jacob Zuma at the ANC's national elective conference in Mangaung in December.
When Motlanthe was appointed to head the committee, he knew the assignment was a poisoned chalice which would eventually lead to an unpopular decision. He took on the task anyway because he cannot turn down projects allocated to him by the president or voice his concerns about the negative impact it would have on his candidacy for ANC president.
It's what the ANC calls " a loyal and disciplined leader" and why his "non-campaign" makes him the only possible contender who could still take on and defeat Zuma.
On Thursday, The Star reported that Zuma's lobbyists want to offer Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe the position of president of the country after the 2014 general election in exchange for his not challenging Zuma in Mangaung.
The paper said Zuma's close allies planned to create two centres of power that would have him run the party while Motlanthe governed the country. In terms of the plan, Motlanthe would have a woman deputy, possibly newly elected AU Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma or Water Affairs Minister Edna Molewa.
The Zuma camp was being forced to reconsider its earlier plan to have Cyril Ramaphosa as their candidate for deputy president after the Marikana massacre (Ramaphosa is on the board of the Lonmin platinum mine) and his bid for a R18-million buffalo damaged his image, the paper said.
A possible deal with Motlanthe, which would involve separating the state presidency from the head of the ANC, was tossed around the Zuma camp several years ago but was set aside when relations between the two leaders cooled. Zuma and his strategists also perceived Motlanthe's softer approach to the disciplinary action against Julius Malema as a sign that he was serious about contesting the ANC presidency and backed off from discussions with him.
Pro-Zuma forces ahead of the 2007 Polokwane conference pushed for the decision against the two centres of power in order to discourage former president Thabo Mbeki from contesting the ANC presidency then. He did so anyway, creating the unwieldy two centres of power for the nine months until he was recalled by the ANC.
There was also a two centres of power arrangement during the ANC's first term in office. Mbeki was elected ANC president in Mafikeng in 1997 but Nelson Mandela remained state president until 1999. However this was a smooth and planned handover of power, so no problems arose.
A deal between the Zuma camp and Motlanthe would be possible, in theory.
But there would have to be inordinate amount of trust between the two leaders, particularly over whether Zuma would in fact step aside in 2014.
However the "forces for change" or "anything but Zuma" lobby would not be in favour of such a deal as it still keeps Zuma's camp in control.
The party is perceived to be more powerful than the state and is where decision-making takes place.
Tokyo Sexwale is possibly the only person who could then contest Zuma, but does not have universal support, even within the forces for change camp, precisely because he wants to be a presidential candidate. Sexwale has been wanting to break out of the mould of the non-campaign since 2007, but was punished then for trying to run his campaign through the media.
This time around, Sexwale has been less obvious but has stated publicly that he is "willing to serve". In the ANC, there is a vast area of difference between this and Motlanthe's "let us allow the branches to nominate" and Zuma's "only the ANC can decide".
Sexwale's campaign for change is also frustrated, ironically, by Motlanthe's anti-campaign. If Motlanthe makes an indication either way, Sexwale and his backers will be able to adapt their campaign either to a run for the presidency or some other position in the top six, which they are unable to do now.
Zuma is also in anti-campaign mode, but only because of his pedestrian leadership style and inability to maximise on his position in the state.
Even though he was launching new schools and houses in the Eastern Cape, these did not appear to assist his campaign. While education is meant to be the apex priority of his administration, the government's handling of the Limpopo textbook issue and teaching crisis in the Eastern Cape has disproved this.
Zuma has been sitting on the report of the presidential task team on the Limpopo textbook crisis since 6 August, and is not giving any indication that he will act on the matter with any sense of urgency, despite assuring the public in July that he would.
The opening of 49 schools in the Eastern Cape this week should ordinarily have impacted positively on ANC structures in that swing province. However, the ongoing crisis in education and interruptions to learning in that province this year has countered the possibility of any positive publicity.
The president's voice has also been completely absent in the growing turbulence in the mining and transport sectors due to crippling strikes.
While these are essentially labour matters, which government does not have a direct hand in, the instability caused by the strikes is impacting negatively on the economy and South Africa's international image. Zuma has not found it necessary to speak publicly to reassure investors or to attempt to calm troubled waters.
It is bizarre that his unwillingness to dirty his hands and provide leadership actually counts in his favour in some ANC constituencies who commend the fact that he hasn't used the multiple crises in the country to project himself positively.
Mangaung will possibly be the last ANC conference where such antiquated methods of choosing leaders will be maintained. The party is under internal pressure to modernise and keep up with an era of hyper communication as the memory of its liberation history recedes.
Hopefully there will never be a time in the future when ANC members have to elect leaders based on their ability not to campaign rather than their capacity to lead.