The upcoming Limpopo regional elective conference will be a make-or-break test of the province's once-taken for granted support for deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa as the party president ahead of the December elective conference.
The province now appears deeply divided over the succession battle between Ramaphosa and outgoing African Union commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
The regional conferences will be held next month as the national succession battle intensifies. Limpopo was widely expected to back Ramaphosa, who has links to the province.
However his detractors in the province have argued that this can't be a factor.
"Cyril, which branch is he from here? He said it himself that he is not from Limpopo and was born in Soweto and after completing school he went back," said a party member who asked to remain anonymous.
A National Executive Committee (NEC) member lobbying for Dlamini-Zuma to take up the reins told News24, they are closely monitoring the regional conferences, describing the battle in Sekhukhune, Waterberg, Mopane, Vhembe and Peter Mokaba as "very bad".
"The divisions are quite deep, they are very bad and the regional chairpersons that emerge will determine who [between Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa] has the support of the province," said the party official.
Claims of intimidation
There have also been claims of intimidation in the processes leading up to the regional conferences.
This week, the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) claimed its provincial secretary was forced to sign-off on a branch general meeting at gunpoint in Waterberg on Wednesday.
Chairperson Stan Mathabatha confirmed the tensions. He told News24 that provincial executive committee members had been sent to Waterberg to assist with the tensions but was unaware of the recent incident, as reported by the league.
Another source said the province is likely to go to the December national elective conference divided, as none of the factions will emerge with an outright majority.
They said a divided Limpopo was likely to be a disadvantage for Ramaphosa, as Dlamini-Zuma is seen as a front-runner.
This is after she was backed by the ANC Women's League and is widely seen to have the support of the so-called Premier League that include the premiers of Free State, parts of KwaZulu-Natal, North-West and Mpumalanga.
She is also expected to get support from the party's youth league.
A local leader told News24 that some of the provincial executive committee members had strong ties to the Premier League and is pushing for Dlamini- Zuma to get majority votes from the province.
President Jacob Zuma is expected to address the party's provincial 105th anniversary celebrations in Burgersfort in Limpopo on Sunday, in a move to "test the waters.''
Burgersfort is in the ANC's biggest region – Sekhukhune- said to be firmly behind Ramaphosa succeeding Zuma. It is also embattled ANC provincial chair Stan Mathabatha's stronghold.
He is said to be behind CR17, a term used to describe Ramaphosa's presidential campaign.
Ramaphosa is also said to have the support of Vhembe district, while Waterberg and Mopani are likely to throw their weight behind Dlamini-Zuma. The bigger region of Peter Mokaba is also said to be hotly contested.
The regional conferences will also be a battleground for who becomes provincial chair with party secretary Nocks Seabi and treasurer Danny Msiza said to be on the campaign trail to replace Mathabatha.
ANC provincial secretary in Limpopo Nocks Seabi said the reason behind violence and intimidation in the build up to regional conferences was linked to the succession battle.
"As you know 2017 is the year of conference and there are people who think if the regional conference goes like this it will assist the process of going to national conference," he said.
But Limpopo had yet to start processes around the 54th national conference. Seabi said branch general meetings where candidates and delegates were to be nominated, still had to take place.
"So those who think regional conferences will be a ladder to go to national conference may not succeed," said Seabi. -- News24