A group of over 100 ANC stalwarts is divided on its next move after the party rejected their suggestion to separate its national consultative conference from its policy conference in June.
It appears some have already thrown in the towel while others are still seeking to stop what they have described as a "downward trajectory" for the ANC.
Several sources told News24 that time is running out to save the party ahead of its December elective conference and the 2019 elections, following a decline in support in the 2016 local government elections.
The stalwarts are now looking at speaking directly to party supporters outside the national executive committee (NEC).
The ANC has rejected stalwarts' calls for a separate consultative conference. They said they will use the two days of the June policy conference to discuss concerns party veterans have raised.
This follows several meetings between the ANC and representatives of the more than 100 party veterans.
"The boat has left the shore and there is nothing that is going to happen," ANC stalwart Mavuso Msimang told News24.
In 2016, ANC leaders were forced to talk to critics, but rejected their suggestions to help the party mend its ways.
"We have for more than five years tried to talk to him (President Jacob Zuma) individually and collectively. They have never found the time to talk to people who are concerned about the organisation," Msimang said.
Denis Goldberg, one of the three remaining Rivonia trialists, said they should simply have aired their views and called for Zuma and his NEC to step down.
"I don't think we should have gone the route of negotiations. We should have just said, 'resign, you are destroying constitutional institutions which people sacrificed their lives for'."
Another veteran, who is part of the group's steering committee, Wally Serote, feels there is agreement about the need to continue talking to the NEC about holding a consultative conference.
"Time is not on the side of those who want to save the ANC," he told News24.
All three stalwarts believe reaching out to members of the ANC outside formal structures might be the only way to get the party to address its problems.
"What needs to be done way ahead of the elective conference in December, is to get members of the ANC and to get the million-plus South Africans who traditionally voted for the ANC to understand that efforts must be made to change how the ANC works," Msimang said.
The stalwarts have already met the SACP and ANC in Gauteng. They plan to meet labour federation Cosatu, and former youth leaders in the ANC.
Serote said there is a sense among the older ANC members that the NEC has been buying time to prevent talks about the consultative conference from going ahead.
He said the ANC cancelled a six-a-side meeting with stalwarts and the steering committee of the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans' Council. This consists of former generals and commissars of the liberation movement's armed wing.
If corrective steps are not taken, the ANC will face certain death, they have warned.
Msimang said the challenge remains telling people about the ANC's "real ideal".
"There is a group of people who have decided they will pursue their personal agendas, pursue what gives them advantage, whether it's money or power and to hell with the ANC.
"ANC people have begun to see that they can't sit and do nothing and not save the ANC."
Msimang believes the party needs to overhaul its elective processes, which are plagued by voting slates, factionalism, and money.
"We need to discuss what kind of system will result in a leadership that is not based on loyalties, expectations of money, on if you scratch my back, I will scratch yours," Msimang said.
The ANC has admitted that its electoral process is flawed, but said changes to the system will only be made at its December elective conference.
For Goldberg, the time has come for ANC members to make their voices heard.
"We must come together in provinces and regions to say enough. The ANC has to be democratic, like the country."
Those in charge cannot be trusted to deliver successful conferences and elect leaders with integrity when they themselves are compromised.
"We need people who can carry through the policies we have, no fear, no favour," Goldberg said.Suggest a correction