THE ANC's national top brass led by President Jacob Zuma spent hours in marathon do- or-die meetings yesterday in an attempt to end the political strife that has crippled Nelson Mandela Bay for the past year.
Thrashing out the political instability in the Eastern Cape's biggest economy, Zuma was flanked by his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and national chairwoman Baleka Mbete at the luxury No 5 Boutique Art Hotel in Summerstrand.
The mediation was the first major intervention by the party's top leaders since the infighting erupted about a year ago.
Speculation was rife yesterday that Zuma would finally decide whether or not to fire mayor Zanoxolo Wayile.
However, regional secretary Zandisile Qupe said last night the mayoral committee reshuffle was never mentioned during the talks.
"The meeting was to look at the state of the organisation in [the] Nelson Mandela Bay region," he said.
"We are heading towards the national conference. The leaders were here to check on the state of the structures.
"We recently made national headlines in the print and electronic media with regard to the unrest, the protests and burning of houses in Motherwell and other parts of the metro, people attacking each other and so on.
"The leaders wanted to check what the ANC is doing about such incidents. The deployees will be called to explain their programme of action."
With regard to the speculation about Wayile's job, Qupe said "there was nothing like that in the discussions".
Zuma started the meetings at about 9am with provincial leaders led by provincial chairman Phumulo Masualle and their regional counterparts led by Faku.
He later had a meeting with Wayile, his deputy Nancy Sihlwayi, speaker Maria Hermans and chief whip Feziwe Sibeko – whose jobs are all on the line.
All roads leading to the guesthouse were blocked off and police, traffic officials, emergency services vehicles and several bodyguards kept a close watch.
Residents, opposition parties, organised business and the religious community – who have all called for an end to the instability – will wait eagerly to see what action Zuma takes to end the crisis.
However, the decision is not an easy one for the president.
Wayile boasts the support of unions and the SACP, while Faku, who has led the campaign for a change in the metro's leadership, is the sitting chairman and a towering figure in the city's political scene. Furthermore, Nelson Mandela Bay is a crucial region for the ANC. It carries clout in the province, which has the second-biggest number of ANC members.
Therefore, choosing one over the other could lead to a backlash from the losing side, further instability or, significantly for Zuma, loss of support in the all-important Mangaung elective conference in December.
Both sides have been lobbying hard for a favourable outcome.
Faku has become increasingly vocal about his pursuit to oust the four.
In an interview with The Herald last month, he said he would never back down in his quest as he believed the four were incompetent.
He has since watered down his statements, saying he believes "there are areas that need improvement" in the management of the municipality.
Meanwhile, Wayile supporters – mainly from the Cosatu-affiliated unions – have been pleading with Zuma to keep the mayor at the helm of the metro.
Two weeks ago, a group of 26 ANC members went to plead with Zuma at the Union Buildings in Pretoria not to allow a reshuffle.
Days later, about 3000 members of the ANC, civil society groups, Cosatu, ANC youth and women's leagues and the SACP marched through the Port Elizabeth city centre to show their support for Wayile.
Both Wayile and Faku have since attempted to put up a united front in public and have condemned the use of their names by their supporters to commit violence.