The ruling party's two biggest provinces are headed for a major showdown at this week's ANC national policy conference, whose outcome may determine President Jacob Zuma's re-election chances.
Zuma's home province, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Eastern Cape have differed sharply on key policy proposals such as nationalisation, the opening of the leadership race and the contentious "second transition" discussion document.
With 509 delegates, KwaZulu-Natal will lead the biggest delegation at the conference; the Eastern Cape will send 439 delegates, the second-biggest.
While KwaZulu-Natal is spearheading the campaign to have Zuma serve a second term as ANC president, the Eastern Cape has emerged as a strong base for those seeking change.
The Eastern Cape wants party members to discuss the names of preferred leaders as early as next month, but KwaZulu-Natal wants the lobbying for leadership to be banned.
Luthuli House has put a lid on the succession debate until October, when nominations for leadership positions will begin officially.
KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala said: "The fundamental issue [for KZN] is the one that deals with lobbying in the organisation. It should be banned. The second issue is taking a drastic step on economic transformation. But not in terms of nationalisation."
But an Eastern Cape regional leader argued that opening the debate in October would disadvantage party structures. "If you say nominations should be only done in October, it then just becomes a mechanical exercise, because there's no time to do it properly. We need to discuss this matter ... that's the position we'll be bringing to the policy conference," he said.
This position is shared by Gauteng, which argued the matter at a meeting of the national executive committee (NEC) earlier this year, but the view was defeated.
The anti-Zuma lobby has since been emboldened by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe's rejection of the controversial "second transition" - the discussion paper they now seek to portray as a Zuma document. Zuma and Mantashe have defended the document.
The majority of provinces, as well as the ANC Youth League, have rejected the document, saying that it wrongly captures the country's path from the political breakthrough of 1994 and that its proposed vision for the country is flawed.
The league is hoping to raise the issue of Julius Malema's expulsion. Spokeswoman Magdalene Moonsamy confirmed that the league would table the Malema matter at a commission that will discuss organisational renewal when the issue of discipline is discussed.
While KwaZulu-Natal has endorsed the discussion document on the second transition, the Eastern Cape says the paper is "ideologically problematic" and "not practical". The Eastern Cape's sentiments are echoed by Limpopo, Gauteng, Western Cape and the youth league.
"We don't understand what [the strategy and tactics document] means. We have discussed the whole concept of second transition [and we agree] you can't separate political freedom from economic freedom," said Nkenke Kekana, spokesman of the ANC in Gauteng.
But Zuma will walk into the policy conference buoyed by the capturing of the Free State by his ally Ace Magashule, who was elected unopposed in a highly factional provincial elective conference at which scores of disgruntled branches were left out.
The conference was boycotted by senior provincial leaders, including secretary Sibongile Bhesani and treasurer Mxolisi Dukwana, amid allegations of factionalism and membership rigging by the audit and intervention team sent by ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe. Bhesani and Dukwana were opposed to Magashule's election.
Mantashe has rejected the claim and insinuated that the Bhesani and Dukwana grouping wanted to delay the conference.
"If a faction takes a decision to disrupt every process and delay conferences, they must never get this office facilitating that. People must go there and contest and not delay conferences," said Mantashe.
"My office will always be criticised ... one of the things that this office must always resist is to be a toy for factions. It must never do that. It must stick to the rules of the game."
The Free State was the only province with an outstanding delegation for the policy conference.
But an NEC member told the Sunday Times that credentials would be highly contested, as they planned to question the validity of the delegation.
"There's gonna be a big fight about the credentials ... the Free State issue is very serious, because those branches are fraudulent. If we just let it go, it means what happened in the Free State can happen to any province ... it would open up the ANC to corrupt practices," said the NEC member, who chose to remain anonymous.
Overall, the policy conference, which will be attended by 3554 delegates, will see a number of proposals being debated, and the nationalisation debate has not found favour among most provinces. The Eastern Cape supports the call to nationalise mines, while KwaZulu-Natal says nationalising the mines would be expensive.
On this issue, the Eastern Cape has the backing of Limpopo and the ANC Youth League. On the opposing side, KwaZulu-Natal will be supported by Mpumalanga, Free State, Gauteng, the Western Cape and Northern Cape.