OPINION: Where to next for the ANC’s ‘premier league’?

There's no such thing as a tune without reason when President Jacob Zuma sings it.

At the end of his closing speech to the ANC's national general council plenary in Midrand on Sunday night, it was this song that was sung: Ngomhla sibuyayo kothula kuthi tu; kokhal' imbayimbayi. It translates as: On our return, it will all go quiet but the machine gun.

It's a nostalgic song of homecoming that MK soldiers sang in camps in exile. It resurfaced around 2008, when the songs about individual leaders became the trend. Most recently Zuma has been singing it at funerals.

At the NGC the song was meant to pull the party back to its roots, away from the modern-day materialist factionalism and runaway corruption that is plaguing it.

At the NGC Zuma urged cadres to go back to the values of "service, selflessness, integrity and discipline".

Five years ago, at the last NGC in Durban, a song about the young soldier Solomon was sung by the ANC Youth League under Julius Malema. Then the league pushed for more young leaders in the ANC and the nationalisation of mines. Malema was, however, reprimanded by Zuma for storming the meeting stage to push their resolution on nationalisation. Two years later he was kicked out of the party.

Having learnt their lesson about challenging Zuma, no delegate this time dared to stick out their necks too far.

A lobby group, dubbed the 'premier league' - consisting of premiers Supra Muhamapelo (North West), Ace Magashule (Free State) and DD Mabuza (Mpumalanga) - tried to make waves but Zuma slammed 'so-called kingmakers' at the start of the meeting. He said: "There is no structure or league of the ANC that has been accorded the status of being kingmaker." This group had wanted to push for a third Zuma term in the party to align ANC presidential terms with those of the country's.

But at the NGC Zuma said he would "never ever" stand for a third term. "Even if they beg me, I won't stand." Those close to Zuma said this was a well-known fact. The premier league's stance was likely just to show loyalty to him to indicate he would be safe when he retires if they are in power.

Many delegates at the end of the NGC said the premier league got a death knell at this NGC. "They made their campaign public too early," said one. "They never stood a chance because they don't have the support of the NEC (ANC's national executive council)," said another.

And then there was also Zuma's reprimand.

It is likely, however, that things could get nasty before they calm down, as the desperate lobby will now likely go back to the provinces and the leagues (where they already have strong influence) to try consolidate their power there - and desperation might force them to become guilty of all the dirty tricks, such as vote-buying, that Zuma warned about at this NGC.

Ultimately, all that remained strong after this NGC is the Machine Gun, as Zuma has been nicknamed. His choice of successor in 2017 is likely to be the winning choice.

Carien du Plessis is a freelance reporter working for Eyewitness News .