The South African Communist Party is at a crossroads, negotiating which path to walk in terms of detaching itself from the ANC and contesting the 2019 elections independently, as well as determining the leaders who will see them along the path they choose.
No matter the path, it is the leadership that will eventually determine the party's fate.
Although he was elected in 2012, the party's now first deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila has grown in popularity -- enjoying support from both inside and outside the party, especially within the past year.
Some provinces in the SACP's structure called for Mapaila to lead, and support for him became more evident on Wednesday when songs were sung in Mapaila's name after the congress was given messages of support by its partners, including the ANC.
Mapaila has marketed himself effectively as a communist leader true to the values instilled by pre-democratic leaders before him. He gained his reputation by fearlessly grabbing the state capture bull by the horns, voicing his disapproval of the ANC and President Jacob Zuma.
He also slammed the controversial ANC Premier League' a group of powerful premiers in the Free State, North West and Mpumalanga, who support Zuma.
And his actions, although brutally honest, have put a target on his back.
During an appearance in April at a memorial service for Chris Hani, it appeared someone threateningly waved a pistol towards Mapaila. Again, a month later, the MK Inkululeko foundation rallied members to protest at Mapaila's house, causing him to rush away from a Cosatu conference in fear for the safety of his family.
But Mapaila remains undeterred.
Last month, while speaking at a South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) conference in Rustenburg, Mapaila reiterated his calls for Zuma to step down, calling him an instrument to the factionalism which has ruptured the ANC.
What sets him apart is that he has remained legitimate and untainted by failures in a Zuma Cabinet -- unlike Nzimande (who is minister of higher education) and former SACP first deputy general secretary, Jeremy Cronin (who is deputy minister of public works).
Mapaila said he would not stand against Nzimande -- who has been at the helm of the party for almost 20 years. Nzimande will remain in the position of general secretary for another term.
Nzimande was a staunch Zuma supporter until recently: he supported Zuma's campaign in 2007 and was in turn rewarded with the post of minister of higher education. Now, SACP members are calling for him to step down from his ministerial role if he is to continue leading the communists.
He may have distanced himself from going head-to-head with his mentor Nzimande, but Mapaila is now Nzimande's right-hand man, positioned perfectly for eventual leadership of the party.Suggest a correction