With Cabinet reshuffles, criminal investigations into comrades and rejection of old friends, Zuma has made enough enemies to form a new coalition of the wounded. This coalition can coalesce around Mbeki.
Will he be a poster boy of the anti-Zuma campaign without necessarily fighting for a leadership position himself?
The anti-Zuma faction wants to, more than Mbeki himself, attract Mbeki’s former supporters to their cause.
His departure from active politics demobilised business people and professionals who don’t really like the ragged-trousered Zuma alliance.
The reception he received at Mangaung recently could give the anti-Zuma faction grassroots credibility, while the willingness expressed by the NEC members to welcome him back to the fold also augurs well for him.
But what if the balance of forces is in Zuma’s favour?
This is not unlikely as he is a master tactician and one of the ANC’s great political survivors.
With three years of patronage to dish out to friends and foes, Zuma may have managed to build a critical mass in the ANC and government that is beholden to him.
Mbeki’s failures on HIV/Aids and Zimbabwe can also be used to curb a return to the fold. Neither was he a particularly popular ANC president and he practically disembodied the tripartite alliance.
Remember too that KwaZulu-Natal’s ANC membership is growing in leaps and bounds.
The final but most unlikely outcome is that Mbeki stands for a leadership position.
He is punted on some slates for the chairperson position, one of relatively small power, but which can be defined by the incumbent.
A chairperson calls meetings, decides on agendas and can choose who to invite to gatherings and who to ignore.
The ANC has earmarked November, the last month before the Mangaung elective conference in December, to dedicate to Mbeki in his role as former president.
This will give him a major boost as the ANC is bound to give him platforms to speak and be honoured.