11/12/2017 12:45 SAST | Updated 11/12/2017 14:42 SAST

ANC Elective Conference Game Changers #1: David Mabuza

Presidential candidates are wrapping up their campaigns and negotiations. The one person they must pay heed to is the Mpumalanga premier.

David Mabuza.
Theana Breugem - Netwerk24
David Mabuza.

The road to the ANC presidency is a bumpy and uncertain one.

There are several key individuals who could still influence the outcome. These are the game changers.

HuffPost SA is publishing a series of articles looking at who these game-changers are and what influence they could potentially yield over the presidential election. The first of these is David Mabuza.

Mabuza, the man with the clout of Mpumalanga behind him and viewed by many as the puppet-master of the ANC's national conference, will be one to watch out for at the party's elective conference at Nasrec in Johannesburg come December 16.

With only five days to go, ANC presidential candidates will be hard at work wrapping up their campaigns and negotiations. The one person they must pay heed to is the Mpumalanga premier.

Here's why.

The province will take 739 delegates to the conference -- the second highest number after KwaZulu-Natal. Its provincial general council meeting revealed a tight race between Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and former AU boss Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, with the former receiving 117 nominations, and the latter 123.

But there were 223 abstentions, with delegates scribbling "Unity" across the ballots. It is widely believed that these votes are being held by Mabuza as a bargaining ticket to sway an already neck-and-neck presidential race and will be awarded to the camp that makes him the best offer.

READ: David Mabuza: The Master Political Entrepreneur.

There is no doubt that Mabuza, who has rapidly climbed the ANC's ranks, is holding out for high office potentially nothing less than that of deputy president of the ANC and of the country. The Dlamini-Zuma camp has already offered him that title; yet, he is still holding out.

Some speculate that Mabuza is using his clout to negotiate the remainder of Dlamini-Zuma's top six. Inserting his allies will allow him control of the ANC's power levers when he takes the number two position.

READ: David Mabuza Is The 'Enigma' That Keeps Us Guessing

Eventually, should his plan fall into place, Mabuza will easily ascend to ANC president come 2022 or 2027. He just has to play his cards correctly now -- and he has been doing just that.

Keep an eye out for Mabuza. In 10 years we could be looking back at Nasrec as the starting point to his presidency.