A high court ruling declaring the ANC's provincial elections in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) unlawful is likely to widen factional rifts in the party.
The party will now have to strategically plan how it will go ahead with its national conference in December, despite its KZN leadership being thrown into turmoil.
On Tuesday, Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Jerome Nguni handed down the judgment, saying that the outcome of the eighth KZN provincial elective conference held in November 2015 was unlawful and void.
The case was brought by ANC councillor Lawrence Dube in May last year following the elections that saw former premier Senzo Mchunu being replaced by Sihle Zikalala.
The province's current leadership will now attempt to appeal the court's decision.
#ANCKZN Kodwa says they don't think they high court ruling will result in further violence in the province— POWER987News (@POWER987News) September 12, 2017
The University of the Witwatersrand's Professor Susan Booysen said it was possible that the entire month of nominations would go by without the appeal being heard.
"We must remember that the ruling is about the provincial conference, not the branches. This ruling has resulted in a cloud of suspicion over how things are being done by the ANC in KZN. The pro-Zuma camp will be taking this cloud into the elections in December," Booysen said.
"This is a huge indictment on the people driving Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's campaign. However, they will not lose their power formally as yet."
Booysen said the ANC's branches may move ahead undeterred.
"Moral upper ground does not win elections. But this judgment could swing modest constituencies that were undecided on who to vote for. But it will not be enough to win over KZN from the Zumas."
ANC veteran Murphy Morobe: "To use biblical analogy - we're running out of plagues needed to send the message - the end is near" #ANCKZN— Thulasizwe Simelane (@ThulasSims) September 12, 2017
Political expert Selby Xinwa said the judgment has serious implications for the ANC.
"The ANC has to deal with this matter in a very delicate way. [Zikalala's] camp may appeal, but it will be difficult for them to win. The ANC needs some kind of way to bring the two factions together," he said.
"The ANC cannot afford for KZN not to be participating in the conference. If the provincial leadership is dissolved... the party will have to establish a provincial task team leading up to the conference. They need a political solution or the rifts will grow."
Xinwa said no branch could vote in the conference if they were not in good standing with the ANC.
"KZN will not be going to conference united in any way," Xinwa said.
#ANCKZN Kodwa says one lesson they learn from such incidents is to put in place pre-audit reports to look into elective conferences— Rethabile Nephthys (@RNephthys) September 12, 2017
Unisa Professor Dirk Kotze said the judgement had the potential to upset the entire process of nominations and the identifying of branch delegates who will attend the national conference.
"This is a major setback for the Zuma camp. They must still convince the court that there is a valid reason to appeal," he said.