Comments by ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule and his deputy, Jesse Duarte, made in support of President Jacob Zuma, appear to indicate that the ANC's top six remains divided in their loyalty to him, TimesLive reported.
Analysts believe that this indicates that ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa still does not have the complete support of the party's top leadership, despite his victory over Zuma's preferred candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, in December last year.
Ramaphosa has indicated that Zuma is on his way out and that his exit would be carefully managed, but Magashule's and Duarte's comments reportedly indicate that a fightback campaign is underway.
In an interview with the BBC last week, Ramaphosa was asked whether confidence in the country would be better if Zuma were removed as president. Ramaphosa said that "a new dawn is on the horizon" and that corruption was being dealt with, and that "obviously" everyone wanted to know about Zuma's tenure as president.
Ramaphosa said he and Zuma had agreed to meet regularly and would discuss "the transition". Ramaphosa was asked how Zuma was feeling, and he said Zuma was anxious, as anyone would be under the circumstances.
Speaking in Pietermaritzburg on Sunday, Magashule was quoted by The Citizen as saying: "There was no national executive committee decision taken to recall President Jacob Zuma. It's only factional leaders who want to be populist who want him gone."
TimesLive reported that he added: "Just because he is no longer president of the ANC doesn't mean he should not be supported. What a wonderful president he was."
In an interview with City Press, Duarte appeared to distance herself from talk that Zuma would be removed or asked to resign before his term was up. She also defended Zuma, saying he had been unfairly targeted by the press.
Political analyst Susan Booysen told TimesLive that the comments made by the two did not indicate that Zuma's faction held sway in the top six, but said that they were "very powerful positions who jointly can create havoc".
Analyst Aubrey Matshiqi reportedly said it was no surprise that the top six appeared split down the middle.
"We should not be surprised given that the top six leadership is split in the middle. The NEC itself is split in the middle. So this kind of favouritism is to be expected. It occurs in the context of a perception that Ramaphosa is beginning to stamp his authority. Internal ANC politics, as well as the country's politics, is leading when it comes to matters of governance as we have seen with measures that have been taken at Eskom and elsewhere. What you see here are Zuma supporters who seem to be countering that perception‚ and reminding us that Ramaphosa is not in control of the ANC in its entirety," he said.
According to Business Day, Magashule and Duarte are part of the Zuma faction's "fightback" campaign. Duarte reportedly told the publication that only six of the 80 national executive committee members were in favour of recalling Zuma.
Remnants of the Zuma faction are reportedly working on winning back support from KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State, with a view to targeting Gauteng later. Business Day reported that, once they have regained ground, Zuma's backers want to call for a special national general council to remove or suspend Ramaphosa.