“Branches have always been corrupted and used as the theatre of fighting. You'd expect that the shift is towards the branches now,” Somadoda Fikeni of Unisa said.
"It is going to be a lot more intense because provinces no longer have the bloc voting powers. Branches are now the main area of focus, so there is going to be a lot of pressure, a lot of bribery.”
The staging of regional and provincial conferences within the next three months would put a strain on the branches, he said.
Professor Susan Booysen at Wits School of Governance agreed, saying an invisible war was taking place at branch level.
“We’re seeing smear campaigns at national level. That is a more visible part of a nasty, dirty world. But what we should be mindful of is the dark war taking place at branches. It is not visible to the public eye.”
Many of the party's branches were in a shambles, she said.
Analyst Ongama Mtimka said the current state of affairs at branches was premised on money and what it could do.
“There is a strong financial interest in this, which makes the stakes high,” Mtimka said, adding there had already been allegations of branches being "bought".
The ANC’s national executive committee is scheduled to meet at the end of the month to deliberate on nominations and the rules of engagement.
While some candidates, such as Deputy President Cyril Ramphosa and former AU chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, who are vying for the presidential posts, have hit the ground running with their campaigns, Mtimka warned that the next three months was not the time for other candidates to drum up support behind closed doors.
“Even those lobbying beneath the surface saw with Kgalema Motlanthe that playing by the book they were simply disadvantaging themselves.
"It doesn’t help to play by the book. It’s important to be out there and make yourself available."
But Mtimka said maintaining a presence in the public domain would not secure victory and groundwork was crucial.
The succession battle had seen a number of political killings over the past few months with the latest casualty, ANC ward councillor Kwazi Mkhize of the Mkhambathini Local Municipality, being shot dead.
Fikeni said the Moerane commission, which is investigating political violence in KwaZulu-Natal, had its work cut out.
“As they investigate, more chapters are being created in their reports because killings are currently happening.”
Fikeni said the extent of how bad things would get would be seen as nominations unfolded.