Who could have anticipated that the run-up to the ANC's 53rd national conference would result in a war of words between Julius Malema and senior leaders of the ANC Youth League, that businessman Cyril Ramaphosa would be central to President Jacob Zuma's re-election bid, that Kgalema Motlanthe could be facing an exit from active politics or that Cosatu's voice would become superfluous? Mangaung is wreaking havoc in the Alliance, and the consequences could be far-reaching.
"We are now in a situation where the solution is more problematic than the crisis," says a prominent voice in the tripartite alliance in reaction to the nomination of businessman Cyril Ramaphosa for the position of deputy president. This is because the last thing Cosatu and the South African Communist Party wanted in the wheeling and dealing around Mangaung was for one of the country's richest businessmen to end up as the president-in-waiting.
But that, unfortunately for them, is how the cards have fallen now that President Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe will contest the ANC presidency. Cosatu and the SACP wanted the status quo in the ANC leadership to remain, in much the same way it did in their own congresses. They have therefore been prevailing on the ANC to avoid contestation over the presidency and have been trying to lean on Motlanthe to stop him from running for Zuma's job.
Since Motlanthe has been rebuffing backroom deals and is loath to declare publicly whether he will stand for president or not, Zuma's key lobbyists have tried to use Ramaphosa as a decoy to draw Motlanthe out. But Motlanthe has remained steadfast, frustrating campaigners on both sides, and in the confusion, the idea of Ramaphosa as number two on the Zuma ticket caught on. This week he was formally nominated by Zuma's biggest support base, KwaZulu-Natal, and the ANC Women's League (ANCWL) for the position of deputy president.
Some of Zuma's backers have warned Motlanthe that if he proceeds to contest the presidency and loses, they will not support him for the position of deputy president. Motlanthe could therefore be facing the prospect of holding no leadership position in the ANC and possibly in the state, where he serves as deputy president at Zuma's prerogative.
Nobody in the ANC and the alliance really wants Motlanthe to get the boot.
On Wednesday, Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi expressed their anxiety at the prospect of Motlanthe being excluded from the Top Six. "Such attempts to remove the deputy president will have long-term implications for unity in the ANC beyond the Mangaung conference," Vavi said.
What he was in fact expressing was the Left's angst about the possibility of Ramaphosa becoming deputy president, ready to step into the top job in 2014 (or earlier if Zuma bombs out for whatever reason). While Ramaphosa's roots are in the trade union movement, just like Motlanthe, the view of Cosatu and SACP leaders is that he has now surrendered completely to big business interests and has no loyalty to his former constituency.
But now that the ANC's biggest province has backed him and iced out Motlanthe for the position of deputy president, other structures supporting Zuma's re-election are bound to follow suit, as the ANCWL promptly did. Cosatu and the SACP have only now realised that they cannot put the genie in the bottle once it's out there, and that they do not have the power to influence ANC delegates to back Zuma but not Ramaphosa. Their only hope is that Ramaphosa declines the nomination.
The other rather surprising consequence of the Mangaung battles is the war of words that has erupted between expelled ANC Youth League (ANCYL) president Julius Malema and the his stand-in in the league, Ronald Lamola. While tensions were evident between Malema and the remaining leaders of the league after his expulsion, Lamola had tried to keep his "economic freedom campaign" afloat and to be at the forefront of the mission to remove Zuma.
Lamola has also been trying to keep the ANCYL from fracturing further, all the time maintaining that he is still just the deputy president, running the league until Malema is able to return to his position. He has been doing all this while trying to stay on the right side of the ANC's disciplinary code, mindful that the ANCYL cannot withstand the impact of any more of its senior leaders being suspended or expelled.
But Malema seems to think that Lamola has become too cosy as the acting leader of the league, and is apparently frustrated that Lamola is not consulting him enough on the positions adopted by the ANCYL and negotiations around Mangaung. As an expelled member of the ANC, Malema is unable to address party meetings to influence the Mangaung process, and is also unable to negotiate with lobbyists. He is reliant on Lamola acting as a proxy for him.
Apart from the campaign for leadership change, Malema is also reliant on Lamola and the league to lobby for reversal of his expulsion at Mangaung. But Malema now appears to believe that Lamola is no longer just keeping his seat warm but wants the position of ANCYL president himself.
The tipping point was a statement issued by Lamola this week that supporting Malema at his court appearances was not an ANCYL programme and that league members could not "organise official ANC Youth League rallies in support of or against Julius Malema for the court case".
"Members are also advised that they cannot officially be part of these rallies. Attendance of the court case by members of the ANC Youth League would be in their individual personal capacities," Lamola said.
This prompted Malema to launch an extraordinary attack on Lamola. In an interview with The Star, Malema described Lamola as a "small boy" who would never lead the youth league because of "his selling-out tendencies". He claimed Lamola was negotiating with Zuma and ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe to switch allegiance in exchange for a chance to take over as league president after Mangaung.
"He is compromised. He is gone. He has sold out. But he must rest assured, he will never lead the youth league. Never! [With] his selling-out tendencies he will never lead the youth league," Malema was quoted by the newspaper.
The ANCYL issued a detailed rebuttal, which has now drawn a line in the sand.
"These bloodcurdling remarks are not worthy of any leader, let alone one trusted by not only the youth but thousands of South Africans, as has been demonstrated time and again.
"Julius Malema's (note, not Comrade Julius or President Malema as the league previously referred to him) unfortunate action of resorting to public squabbling and accusations is not befitting the stature with which young people regard our organisation, the African National Congress Youth League, and hence we will rise to defend anything we view as an unwarranted attack against it, its views and positions," the league said.
The statement went on to defend Lamola and distance the ANCYL from Malema's legal troubles: "The deputy president of the ANC Youth League, Comrade Lamola, is attacked for saying that the ANC Youth League has no case to answer in court and therefore will not be organising any rallies for or against Julius. The African National Congress Youth League is an organisation far above any individual. It is a fact that the ANC Youth League is not accused of money laundering in any court of law and the deputy president remains correct in distancing the organisation from private issues of individuals regardless of what position they may or may not hold in the organisation."
The future of the ANC Youth League after Mangaung therefore hangs in the balance. With Malema's organisation now turning against him, his campaign for reinstatement might be in trouble. It is uncertain for how long Lamola can continue to hold the reins of the league with Malema setting his guns on him. With the league in disarray, it also cannot take the chance of calling a special congress to elect a new leadership, as there is a strong possibility it will descend into chaos.
In all of this lies a collection of lessons for the ANC and the alliance. The ANC's system of electing leaders is antiquated and sets up the organisation to go to war with itself. It is also not possible to end up with the best collective of leaders for the country through Machiavellian chess moves which can backfire. The lesson for the ANC Youth League is that it should not have tried to jump the gun on the succession battle four years before the national conference, as all its troubles stem from trying to pull strings in the mother body too early in the game.
But the main message from the ructions throughout the alliance is that Mangaung is a monster they all helped create, which can now chew them up. On 21 December, however, there will be many people leaving Mangaung wondering what went wrong.