12/10/2017 13:49 SAST | Updated 12/10/2017 15:02 SAST

KZN, The Broken Presidential Kingmaker

Trying to predict how the province will vote, divided as it is between three ANC front runners, is what will make December's conference all the more unique.

From left: President Jacob Zuma and his three potential successors: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Zweli Mkhize.
The Times via Getty Images
From left: President Jacob Zuma and his three potential successors: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Zweli Mkhize.

KwaZulu-Natal, which has historically been the ANC kingmaker with the highest number of voting delegates, is split between the "big three" candidates, cracking the presidential race wide open come the party's national conference in December.

The province will deliver 870 voting delegates at the conference, almost a fifth of the delegation.

Depending on who you talk to, they will tell you that branches are rooting for ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize, that Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is commanding the support or that the pro-President Jacob Zuma fan base is firmly behind Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

The province emerged united in 2007 and 2012, and was an instrumental force behind Zuma's election and re-election as president. He would have been hoping that KwaZulu-Natal would again stand united behind his preferred candidate, Dlamini-Zuma.

But this is not the case.

HuffPost SA spoke to four ANC members in the province who hold positions at branch level. Their allegiance is divided among the three front runners.

From their perceptions of how branches are siding, it is clear Mkhize, Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma all hold some power in the province, splitting the voter support three ways. Who currently holds the most influence over branches is difficult to tell.

And it is that problem with perceiving and predicting how KwaZulu-Natal will vote that makes this elective conference all the more unique. Five years ago, it would have been a Zuma landslide.

But conflict in the ANC in the province is raging.

The current provincial executive committee -– led by Zuma frontmen such as Sihle Zikalala and Super Zuma -– is scrambling to maintain its legitimacy inside the courtroom, now seeking to appeal a high court ruling that declared their election unlawful and void.

On the other side of the court battle are the Ramaphosa backers, led by ANC veteran Lawrence Dube, who won the case and are now opposing the appeal.

The court case resembles the symptoms of a province divided. But what then for December?

Mkhize is poising himself as the "unity candidate" to a divided party, Ramaphosa is riding on the ticket that the deputy president traditionally follows as president and Dlamini-Zuma is trying to set herself apart from her ex-husband while basing her campaign on the wheels of his massive support base.

Let's say each candidate takes an equal chunk of the province's voters. The second-best bet is securing the support of Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza. His province, unlike KwaZulu-Natal, is united behind him.

Mpumalanga is the second-largest voting province this year -– 736 of the 4,723 delegates will come from there. And Mabuza is now singing the song of unity.

One would think Mabuza's closeness to Free State Ppremier Ace Magashule and North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo (the three were subbed the "Premier League" not too long ago and were seen as Zuma backers) may have the two of them lean in the same direction he decides to go in.

There are seven candidates vying for the top spot in December and 4,723 votes for the taking. Those close to the campaigning say 1,500 votes should secure a win. They say this makes almost a third of the entire voting delegation and with seven campaigners, three of which are seen as front runners, they believe 1,500 is the golden minimum for which to aim.

Based on that number, this therefore means our next president could be decided by a ballot box containing a slice of the KwaZulu-Natal pie, a majority from Mabuza's Mpumalanga branches and little bits and pieces from any of the seven other provinces.

But allegiances can change, better deals can be made and partnerships can strike up at the eleventh hour. It may be too early to say who will take the win, but what is certain is that with KwaZulu-Natal being so unpredictable, the race is certainly fascinating to watch.