Battles between factions in the ANC are spewing over into the country's courts, with cliques in four different provinces scrambling to overpower one another ahead of the party's national conference in December.
Approaching the judiciary to fix internal squabbles in the ruling party is a seemingly growing trend, one that is anticipated to continue before and after the party elects its new leadership.
Experts fear that ongoing contestation over the legitimacy of ANC structures is going to be used as a proxy battle to bring the party's conference to a standstill – a symptom of rapidly raising stakes for those gunning after top posts on the party's national executive committee (NEC).
A group in the Free State province spearheaded by ANC member Lefa Mifi – that is believed to have banded behind deputy provincial leader, Thabo Manyoni – is threatening court action unless the NEC disbands the province's executive committee.
Manyoni is set to go head-to-head with the province's current ANC chair, Ace Magashule, when the province goes to conference.
The ANC's constitution says a provincial conference must be held every four years; the Free State is now months over that mandate. While the provincial leadership has blamed branch audits as a reason for the delay, Mifi's group is arguing for the provincial executive committee (PEC) to be disbanded and a task team be set up in its place.
But Free State ANC spokesman Thabo Meeko told the HuffPost SA on Tuesday that the current leadership will convene its conference next month, despite ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe calling for all provinces to postpone until after December.
"We support [Mantashe's] decision and its objectives... but the decision to convene a provincial conference is the decision of the provincial leadership. National has handed over the audit results and in our view, this means they are giving us the go-ahead," he said.
Meeko said the ANC's national office will deal with the threat of court proceedings.
As early as last month, the ANC in the North-West was a also hanging, by a thread, onto its provincial leadership structure.
But their woes came to an end after Judge Nadia Gutta rescinded a decision taken by the courts to interdict a regional elective conference and provincial general council from taking place.
Disgruntled members of the Bojanala region, the province's largest in terms of population, instituted court proceedings over allegations that at least 40 branches were not constitutionally launched. They also alleged that the provincial leadership had created parallel structures within some branches.
The application was brought by former Bojanala regional secretary Tokyo Mataboge and the 39 others and the interdict was granted on 11 August. Since then, a new regional leadership has been elected.
Political expert Theo Venter said the clashes are primarily between those aligned to North West ANC leader Supra Mahumapelo and other factions supporting the highly political North West Business Forum.
"It all started after [Mahumapelo] replaced elected regional structures with regional task teams. This was part of his strategy to get those aligned with him to the national conference. The court cases are all about factionalism," Venter said.
"The political situation in this province is extremely awkward."
On Monday, disgruntled ANC members in the Eastern Cape launched an application to interdict the province's elective conference, which was concluded at the weekend.
The delegates were questioning the validity of the conference after violence broke out in the early hours of Sunday – with fists and chairs flying, sending some attendees to the hospital.
But the matter was struck off the roll by the High Court in East London.
This comes after another failed court bid to nullify the election of the province's OR Tambo region's leadership.
The Zuma faction in KZN is pinning its hopes on the outcome of an appeal against a decision by the Pietermaritzburg High Court last month, which declared the province's party leadership‚ and the 2015 conference at which they were elected‚ null and void.
The current leadership, led by Zuma frontmen Sihle Zikalala and Super Zuma, defied the party's national leadership and went ahead to lodge the appeal before a scheduled NEC meeting to discuss the matter.
The NEC eventually came out supporting the decision.
The court bid was brought by veteran KZN leaders who were ousted at the 2015 election. Citing procedural flaws, the veteran leaders, now Ramaphosa allies, believed the election was rigged to make way for a Zuma slate.
In a press conference on Tuesday, after the leadership in the province met, Super Zuma said the judgment contained wider implications and has the potential to "distort and weaken the authority of the PEC and NEC".
"It is profoundly significant to overcome all internal weaknesses and reposition the ANC as an effective agent of change," he said.
Court battles likely to continue before and after December
Politics expert Mzukisi Qobo said the ANC has reached a stalemate in its leadership contestation and tensions are therefore building in its top ranks ahead of the national conference.
"There is no consensus on the leadership and the course the party should take after December. These court battles are a curtain-raiser for a much larger battle that is coming," Qobo said.
"There may be contestations over the legitimacy of voting delegates and membership audits in December, which may serve as proxies for bringing the conference to a standstill. Court battles will follow."
Qobo said the court battles are a manifestation of a "systematic cancer" in the ANC.
The University of the Western Cape's Keith Gottschalk said it is becoming a trend that when a particular faction loses, they rush to the courts or physically break up meetings, as in the case of the Eastern Cape.
"Turbulence is spreading. Zuma's previously unchallenged support base is now being challenged in province after province. But every court decision is likely to be appealed. It shows that the stakes are being raised for those wanting posts on the NEC," Gottschalk said.