Former South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma has romped ahead of President Thabo Mbeki in the race for the leadership of the ruling African National Congress party. However, as VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our bureau in Johannesburg, the outcome at next month's national conference is still not a foregone conclusion.
Mr. Mbeki has won in four of nine regions and Mr. Zuma in the other five, but the number of individual votes paints a truer picture. Mr. Zuma won some two-thirds of the 3,600 votes. Steven Friedman, visiting professor of politics at Rhodes University, told VOA the weekend's ANC provincial general council meetings have, for the first time, taken the assessment of Mr. Zuma's support out of the realm of speculation.
"Well it is important in the sense that it's the first time that we have hard evidence of how ANC delegates might vote in a secret ballot," he said. "And that takes us a lot further forward than the speculation and gossip that we have been hearing over the last while or so. It clearly indicates a very significant lead for Jacob Zuma."
The likelihood now is that Mr. Zuma will be elected president of the African National Congress at next month's national conference in Polokwane, Limpopo Province - thereby placing himself firmly in the running to become president of South Africa.
However, it is not quite as simple as it seems. The ANC has a complicated electoral system and a number of the delegates who voted at the provincial conferences will not be in Limpopo next month. Also, nominations are allowed from the floor, once the conference gets under way.
In addition, ANC members are fearful that divisions already caused by the bitter battle for supremacy will become irreversible unless a compromise is reached before the vote takes place. Friedman says the compromise may be the so-called "third way" - choosing neither Mr. Zuma nor Mr. Mbeki but someone else both groups can live with.
"The bargaining chip which the Mbeki camp would have in this situation would be that Jacob Zuma could still be charged with corruption," he said. "So it is not impossible that Mr. Mbeki and his supporters might say, well look do we really want to - even if you're ahead significantly here - do we really want to elect somebody who may well spend six months in a court case, the outcome of which is uncertain."
The ANC candidate for president of the country will be formally decided in the run-up to the next general election in 2009. If Mr. Zuma is to be that candidate, a great deal will depend on whether the national prosecuting authority decides it has sufficient evidence to reinstate corruption charges against him.