Mounting pressure from alliance partners, opposition parties and civil society groups is unlikely to lead to President Jacob Zuma's ousting before December, but an early exit-strategy for Zuma may be in the works early next year, say analysts.
"It is certainly a possibility that President Zuma may be recalled in the near future," Susan Booysen of Wits' School of Governance told HuffPost SA.
"We know change is happening in the ANC, but we do not know how fast or how deep. December's national elective conference will be a pivotal point in which we will know much more about the balance of forces in the ANC," she said.
An early departure from the presidency would make Zuma the second democratically-elected leader of the country after Thabo Mbeki to fall short of completing a second term in office.
Former president Thabo Mbeki in September 2008 faced the wrath of the ANC's national executive committee (NEC) who recalled him following allegations he misused his power amid a protracted battle with then national president-in-waiting Jacob Zuma.
"We now observe a similar pattern with Jacob Zuma to his predecessor Thabo Mbeki," according to Sithembile Mbete, political science lecturer at the University of Pretoria.
Mbete told HuffPost SA that although the ANC's NEC has been reluctant to use its power to recall Zuma as a party deployee to government, the tables may turn after the December elective conference.
"A deal may be struck to have a 'caretaker president' put in place - much like Kgalema Motlanthe after Mbeki was recalled - but whoever this is would likely be expected to ensure Zuma is protected after his terms ends," she said.
Mbete said the importance for Zuma of defining the terms and conditions on which he may be removed explains his involvement in the current ANC presidential campaign, despite him not standing for re-election.
"He has already crowned his successor, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and may wait for her to take the reins to ensure it is done on his terms. If by the end of the year a motion of no confidence and an impeachment case brought by the EFF against the president both fail, it is likely we will see an ANC-driven conversation and ANC-driven process concerning the fate of Zuma and whether he should continue until the end of 2019," she said.
'Zuma's fate may be similar to Mbeki's if Ramaphosa is elected'
Reflecting on Mbeki's ousting in 2008, Booysen said the "wave of mobilisation against Mbeki years ago was so deep that it is hard to imagine the tide turning against Zuma is this way now. His support is deeply entrenched".
Political analyst Mzukisi Qobo told HuffPostSA if Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is elected there would be "no inclination on the part of Jacob Zuma to step down early". Rather, Zuma would "use the remaining time to wrap up, fight and ensure a managed negotiation from power which will be much easier under Dlamini-Zuma's leadership," he said.
Qobo said there is "somewhat of a panic" among Zuma loyalists and some may hope to strike a deal to ensure a smooth exit for him if an anti-Zuma candidate appears likely to takes the reins. The two main camps in the ANC, however, are "highly polarised, have very little that unites them and are very unlikely to do deals going into the elective conference in December," he said.
"I think it's going to be nasty and brutal and a winner-takes-all situation," Qobo said. "There is a lot of deep resentment that is built up among those not in favour of Zuma or Dlamini-Zuma and they want a decisive win to make a clean sweep at Luthuli House and in government."
"The anti-Zuma camp wants to present itself as a force for reform, modernisation and for the dismantling of all that Zuma has wrought over the last eight years he has been in power. If they win, they will certainly remove Zuma," he said.
The battle for the top spot in the ANC is expected to dominate conversation at the ANC's national policy conference beginning Friday, according to Mbete. ANC NEC member Lindiwe Sisulu on Sunday warned of a 'proxy war' being played out at the conference and distracting from designing policies for the benefit of all South Africans.