ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has suggested President Jacob Zuma could be out of the Union Buildings by early next year if his preferred candidate loses in December.

Addressing the foreign media in Johannesburg yesterday, Mantashe said the ANC was unable to remove Zuma now because of a resolution the party adopted in Polokwane that the president of the ANC should be the party's presidential candidate.

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Mantashe said it had been easier to recall former president Thabo Mbeki in 2008 because he was no longer leader of the ANC, adding that, in Zuma's case, this would be difficult as he was the incumbent.

"We're saying we have six months to go to the national elective conference. Once we go to that elective conference, we elect a new leadership of the ANC.

"That is a very important milestone because, beyond that point, many things are possible. What I am saying is that his term [as state president] ends in 2019 but beyond December the conversation becomes less complex."

In the past six months, Zuma has survived two motions of no confidence against him within the party's national executive committee.

His supporters are said to have told the last NEC meeting that the structure had no powers to remove a sitting president.

Mantashe concurred with this view yesterday, saying Zuma could only be removed by a special national conference between now and December.

Mantashe also described calls for the next president of the party to be a woman as a campaign tool.

This was seen as a jibe at those campaigning for former African Union Commission chairman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on a female president ticket.

Mantashe's statements on thefemale candidate indicate his disapproval of the campaign to have Dlamini-Zuma succeed Zuma.

Mantashe has previously hinted he may back Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa for the top job.

Mantashe said gender would not be a factor when the ANC elected new leaders.

"We don't have anything called a woman president in the ANC," he said.

"We look for the president of the ANC - male or female - because if we elect a female, that female will not be a female president but will be the president of the ANC. It's as simple as that."

His comment comes as elements of the youth and women's leagues, as well as the party in the Free State, have come out in support of Dlamini-Zuma as the next leader.

Mantashe also reiterated a recent call by the ANC national executive committee that there be a judicial commission of inquiry into allegations of state capture involving the Gupta family and prominent party members.

Mantashe said the allegations hurt the ANC because they had at their centre "leaders of the ANC".

He said it was imperative the commission be immediately instituted. The problem started with "corporate capture" and graduated into "state capture".

He said the ANC had called on people to give evidence on state capture but only one individual was willing to put the claims in writing.

"That's why there was a flood to the public protector [and] much later to the SA Council of Churches," Mantashe said.

"It is quite damaging to the ANC ... because we are the governing party and many of the people cited there as Gupta beneficiaries are leaders of the ANC," he said.