The pieces are moving towards the ANC’s national elective conference in December and the ominous words of the party veterans, in their critique of the party last year, loom large.

Last December, 101 of the party’s elders delivered a scathing indictment of what the ANC leadership has allowed in a document entitled "For the Sake of our Future", which they handed to President Jacob Zuma. They warned that should the ANC continue on its current path, it would split or, even more ominously, lose power.

"The leadership of the ANC has ... preoccupied itself with defending personal interests, interests of colleagues, families and friends, at the expense of the people of SA, particularly the poor, and the ANC," they said. "The leadership of the ANC has failed to act decisively against corruption, nepotism, factionalism, arrogance and election slates in the ANC and the alliance," they said.

The ANC’s chaotic Eastern Cape conference last weekend provided tangible evidence that the elders were correct in their assessment.

The problem is, at every elective gathering held by ANC structures this year, it has been business as usual, as the party ignores the accelerating slide into irrelevance and chaos.

The Eastern Cape conference, where a group aligned to deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa was elected, was a case in point.

That gathering was marred by violence, the hurling of chairs, and the spilling of blood. In the end, the opposing faction walked out, and held a parallel meeting at the City Hall, before launching a court bid to halt the election of new leaders.

This Eastern Cape conference had already been delayed for months, as one faction totted up the numbers and found they were on the losing side, so resorted to lodging various disputes to stop the conference happening.

Now, even though the court has struck this challenge from the roll, the losers may yet try other tactics — including petitioning the ANC’s national executive committee to overturn the result, which would hurt Ramaphosa.

Similar chaos reins in KwaZulu Natal. There, Zuma’s supporters are pushing hard to retain their status as leaders of the ANC’s largest province. Zuma has even sought his own legal opinion on whether to appeal the judgment last month that nullified the election of his backers.

Even in the Northern Cape — the ANC’s smallest province — regions are bucking against the Ramaphosa-aligned leadership elected this year.

It used to be said the ANC could self-correct. But this adage seems emptier than ever, as self-interest has only deepened in recent months.

With the elective conference at Nasrec, near Soweto, looming within weeks, divisions are unlikely to heal after new leaders are chosen.

This means Zuma’s heir will be saddled with a deeply divided party. Whoever wins, it will be a tenuous victory, given the split in support.

Until now, the Zuma faction has not displayed restraint, even though the ANC itself may be sacrificed; they are unlikely to do so if the outcome does not swing in their favour.

At the closing of the Eastern Cape conference, Ramaphosa delivered a sermon of unity — but the ANC has shown that the unity possible when the politics of the stomach is at play is a fragile one.

This is why a split looms larger than ever. The ANC, as the veterans argued, is at a cross-roads and no amount of rhetoric can save it now. It missed the largest opportunity to repair the damage when it spurned the veterans’ offer to intervene and chart a path of renewal.

Whoever wins in December will inherit a bruised and broken party, unable to extricate itself from its self-inflicted morass.

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