ANC presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. File picture: David Ritchie/ANA
Johannesburg - The battle for the soul of the ANC deepened on Wednesday after a court decision dealt a blow to the presidential campaign of former AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

The decision by the Free State High Court to nullify some of the branch meetings that led to a general council meeting during which Dlamini Zuma was nominated has raised the possibility that branches of the province could go to the party’s elective conference next month without the provincial leaders.

This came as the party’s rebels in KwaZulu-Natal - another stronghold of Dlamini Zuma - were on Thursday returning to the Pietermaritzburg High Court to hear if their attempts to try to force the court to render the leadership of the ANC in the province unlawful would succeed.

The governing party’s Free State and KZN provincial executive committees were crucial in ensuring the more than 200 branches stay on course to vote for Dlamini Zuma when the ANC holds its elective conference in two weeks.

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This weekend, many of the party’s provinces will hold general council meetings to pronounce on their preferred candidates, with sparks expected to fly in the Eastern Cape on Thursday.

It would not be the first time the provincial executive in the Free State is barred by a court decision from participating in an ANC elective conference.

Led by Free State Premier Ace Magashule - who was nominated by the province’s general council meeting to be the party’s secretary-general on Dlamini Zuma’s slate - the provincial leaders were blocked by the court from participating in the 2012 Mangaung conference.

By Thursday night, the provincial executive committee (PEC) was in a meeting in Sasolburg dealing with the court outcome and their response.

They had to leave the by-elections in the area, which falls under the Metsimaholo municipality, where the SACP was going head-to-head with the ANC for the first time since 1994, a development that showed how strained the relations are in the alliance just before the December ANC conference.

The SACP's second deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila even went to the extent of accusing the ANC in the area of vote-rigging. He said they would lodge an official complaint as people had been bused in from places like QwaQwa to vote.

On Tuesday, Magashule had said he was unfazed by the pending court ruling and vowed that the provincial conference would go ahead.

“People who have gone to court have gone seven times and they have lost. People took us to court when they wanted us to go to a provincial conference”

While it is only 28 of the branches' meetings that have been nullified by the court, it is unclear whether the branches whose disputes have been internally lodged will be able to participate in the upcoming national conference.

The court also ruled that the provincial conference, scheduled to start on Friday, cannot go ahead. This means Magashule and his allies could end up not having a mandate to represent the party next month.

The provincial leadership has failed to provide a concrete figure on how many branches have managed to hold their nomination meetings, but ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has said the party had 291 branches in good standing.

ANC spokesperson Khusela Sangoni failed to respond to repeated calls for comment.

The KZN rebels, on the other hand, pushed ahead to delegitimise the party's PEC in the ANC’s biggest province.

Lawrence Dube and his fellow applicants say they will return with confidence to the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Thursday to hear whether their application for leave to execute judgment of a previous order, which effectively disbanded the KZN PEC, was successful.

If the rebels are granted their application, it would mean that the original September court order to dissolve the KZN PEC would take effect until the appeal by the PEC.

Dube was the main applicant in the high court case against the ANC in KZN, who walked away victorious when they challenged the results of the ANC’s 2015 provincial elective conference that saw Sihle Zikalala replace former premier Senzo Mchunu as the provincial chairperson.

The judgment of the full bench of the Pietermaritzburg High Court effectively disbanded the leadership structure led by its provincial chairperson, Zikalala.

The KZN PEC, with the endorsement of the party’s national executive committee, has appealed the court judgment.

“Victory has already set in for us and I doubt we will be in court for too long,” said a confident Dube.

It seems that Thursday’s appearance in the 16-month legal battle will not see hundreds of supporters outside the court, as was the case with their previous court appearances.

Both Dube and ANC provincial spokesperson Mdumiseni Ntuli said they did not plan on asking supporters to accompany them to court.

Dube said they did not mobilise any supporters to join them outside the court, and he would be in the courtroom with those who were “interested and close” to him.

“At this time everyone is busy with the elective conference, and we want them to concentrate on that. It will be a quick visit to the court, so it is okay that everyone concentrates on the conference,” Dube said.

Ntuli said he would also be at the high court and that the ANC leadership did not invite anyone, “except a few of us who are permitted inside the courtroom”.

Spokesperson for the applicants Sthembiso Mshengu said they were just expecting those who can attend to be at the court to show their support, but there was no planned support arranged.

The Star