18/08/2017 05:23 BST | Updated 18/08/2017 11:00 BST

Zweli Mkhize Could Well Be The Deputy President That (Most) Of The ANC Can Live With

He's quietly positioning himself.


Although ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize's name has been thrown into the presidential race, it seems this unassuming dark horse has no intention of going after the big prize.

Instead, Mkhize is strategically positioned to claim the next best thing -- the title of deputy president.

The Alfred Nzo region in the Eastern Cape raised Mkhize's name as its pick for party president during the region's elective conference last month.

But Mkhize -- unlike others whose names have been tossed into the hat like minister in the presidency Jeff Radebe and human settlements minister Lindiwe Sisulu -- has not made any remarks indicating that he is ready to lead.

But he has not been quiet, making his voice heard when it matters most, while still towing the party line.

Mkhize (61), who was a longstanding Zuma supporter, burnt the last bridge with the president when he hit back after Number One's move to replace then finance minister Nhlanhla Nene with the little-known David Des van Rooyen back in 2015.

Behind the scenes, Mkhize was one of the pivotal role players whose lobbying forced Zuma to backtrack on his decision.

His actions costed him some support from within the Zuma faction, but Mkhize has since managed to do what few others have: remain outspoken on critical issues plaguing the country without bringing his beloved party into disrepute or playing to the tune of any particular faction.

Firm on Gupta leaks

The KZN-born politician was firm on the leaked Gupta emails, calling for those implicated to be held to account.

He also was quick to criticize jubilation in the ANC after the secret vote of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma was unsuccessful, saying the party instead needed reflection and great self-introspection on the current challenges it faces.

Mkhize's rhetoric is unity in the ANC -- as well as the need for transformation in the economy -- and he uses every opportunity to cement these notions.

It's keeping to these core values in the party, without being blinded by political populism, that has earned Mkhize respect from several key constituencies within the ruling party. This means, he remains acceptable to both the Ramaphosa and Zuma camps.

And what makes Mkhize more enticing for each camp is where he comes from.

Mkhize still maintains strong ties with ANC allies in KwaZulu-Natal, his home province, where he served as Premier between 2009 and 2013.

In 2012, the ANC in KZN was the first to nominate Mkhize for the position of treasurer general on the Zuma slate. Nominations followed from Mpumalanga, the Free State, North West, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape.

Talks within the ANC at the time was that as per the party tradition, Ramaphosa would succeed Zuma as president come 2017 and Mkhize, who was packing his bags to head to his new post in Luthuli House, would eventually be prepped as Ramaphosa's deputy.

Neutrality is his strong point

The party's rhetoric towards the succession has changed since then, but Mkhize still garners substantial support from comrades in KZN, making him a key element in tipping the balance of forces within a divided kingmaker province that constitutes more than 20 percent of voting ANC members at the national conference.

Although Mkhize is not a person everyone supports, he is someone everyone can live with. His neutrality was key to ensuring this.

And he now has the political weight and popularity within the ANC to entice both the Ramaphosa and Zuma factions.