Now ANC wants just six provinces
South Africa might - if the ANC has its way - be reduced to six provinces in the next four years.
Though the proposal to have fewer provinces has regularly been raised by party officials, it appears that it has gained increasing support among delegates to the ANC policy conference in Midrand.
According to two senior party leaders, the legislature and governance commission has agreed to:
Merge Northern Cape, Western Cape and some parts of Eastern Cape. A combined Cape could give the ANC an upper hand over the DA in an election;
Incorporate the northern parts of Eastern Cape into KwaZulu-Natal. North West would cease to exist, as the commission has proposed that some parts of this province be merged with Gauteng and others with Limpopo;
Free State and Mpumalanga will remain unchanged; and
A presidential review committee be set up to handle the process.
This proposal was put on the table by the ANC Western Cape and Eastern Cape regions.
"There was consensus that the number of provinces be reduced," said one delegate.
Eastern Cape ANC provincial secretary Mlibo Qoboshiyane said the proposal was not about increasing the party's powers. It was, he said, about addressing huge anomalies, such as poverty, unemployment and inequality.
"Eastern Cape strongly argued that the [ANC's national executive committee] set up a team of experts to start working on the renewal of the current state, including national, provincial and local level, within the broad understanding that South Africa is one, sovereign and unitary," he said.
Eastern Cape is one of the most rural provinces and has been beset by maladministration.
Last year its provincial education department was placed under national administration.
Said Qoboshiyane: "We contend that there are huge challenges in the current feature of our state and its architect frame, especially when considering issues of inequality and unemployment.
"We further proposed that such be dealt with with extreme care to avoid state instability, respecting negotiated clauses during Codesa."
But DA leader and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille immediately dismissed the proposal as nothing but "gerrymandering boundaries to ensure that the DA cannot win provincial elections".
"It would be disastrous for service delivery, most importantly. This will only make large inefficient provincial governments even bigger, more internally divided and further removed from the people.
"We will resist these gerrymandering proposals to the limit. Most South Africans will see through them."
Zille said the proposal was "extremely complex, divisive, and unpopular in the ANC".
"It has no hope of going further than an internal ANC document," she said.
The proposal was expected to meet opposition at the plenary session held last night because some party structures were opposed to it - the provincial sphere of government is used to dispense patronage.
The reassessment of the demarcation of provinces has been a continuous subject of discussion in the ANC. Its 2002 conference briefly dealt with the issue.
At its 2007 Polokwane conference there was no consensus on how to take the debate further. It was the same at the ANC's national general council meeting in Durban in 2010.
In its current policy discussion document, the ANC proposes that the government "reform, rationalise and strengthen provinces".
Its main aim is "that we have fewer provinces which are functional, effective, economically sustainable, integrate communities on a non-racial basis and do away with ethnic boundaries".
Though the plenary session had not adopted a resolution yesterday, the commission - chaired by Deputy Minister of Public Service and Administration Amanda Dlodlo - agreed on decreasing the number of provinces.
The policy conference will have to come up with answers about the powers of provinces, the nature of support and capacity building.
However, delegates want the ruling party to give serious consideration to the constitutional requirements when reducing the number of provinces.
They also want key political parties to be sufficiently consulted and allowed space to play a role in shaping provincial reforms.