Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza, said to be the biggest influencer ahead of the ANC's national elective conference in December, is implementing a delicate yet dangerous political strategy to ascend the ranks of the party.
By playing his cards close to his chest, and keeping mum on which presidential candidate he supports, Mabuza remains a political kingmaker with the might of the country's second-biggest voting bloc behind him.
Analysts say the strategy ensures that no presidential candidate takes him, or the influence he has over branches in his province, for granted.
Mpumalanga will send 736 members from its branches to the conference -- and because of Mabuza's political longevity as premier (a position he has held since 2009) and the influence he holds, it is thought that securing his support would mean bagging a large majority of the province's delegation.
Political expert Susan Booysen said the ANC in Mpumalanga is "overwhelmingly" supportive of Mabuza.
"There are pockets of [members who do not support Mabuza], but he has the bulk of the province behind him. He is playing a delicate political game, making sure nobody is taking him for granted," Booysen said.
"This optimises his chances of being appealing to both Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma's camps."
Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma both had campaign rallies in Mpumalanga on Saturday. Tellingly, Mabuza attended neither. Regardless of his absence, supporters from various regions in the province turned out in their thousands to support the two candidates who are seen as frontrunners in the race for the position of ANC president.
In addition to his own province, Mabuza also enjoys the support of the ANC Women's League, which nominated him as the deputy president (with Dlamini-Zuma as president) on their slate.
While the jury's out on which presidential candidate it will be that Mabuza supports come December, there is also speculation about his own ambitions within the party.
He's an "enigma", said political analyst Theo Venter.
"Nobody knows where he stands. His influence goes all the way down to the branch level. There is also the expectation that he is a local politician who will ascend the ANC's ranks. This serves as further motivation to branches," Venter said.
"But he may be playing a dangerous game by keeping himself in the middle of the two presidential candidates for now."Suggest a correction