ANC members have claimed that auditors padded the figures for provinces crucial to Jacob Zuma's party presidency re-election campaign.
ANC members aligned to the anti-Zuma group in Mpumalanga have accused provincial and regional party leaders of colluding with its auditors to inflate membership figures in a bid to boost Zuma's re-election prospects.
Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State are expected to be central to Zuma's re-election at the party's national elective conference in Mangaung in December. These provinces have recorded a significant increase in membership over the past few months. In addition Mpumalanga, there have also been complaints about alleged attempts to manipulate membership in KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State.
On Thursday, a disgruntled group of ANC members went to court to seek an interdict on the re-election of Free State ANC provincial chairperson Ace Magashule and his executive committee. The new executive was elected during the disputed provincial conference held in Parys a few months ago.
If the disputes over the allocation of delegates are not settled in time, the national conference could be bogged down by fights over accreditation.
According to internal ANC documents that aggrieved members provided to the Mail & Guardian this week, more than 2 000 ghost members in Bohlabela region in Mpumalanga were added to the final audit report, which Luthuli House conducted in August.
One of the key complaints is the apparent discrepancy between the preliminary audit report and the final audit report – both of which were conducted within a month. The documents show that the auditors added 100 members to almost all of the 30 branches in Bohlabela in the final audit report.
For example, a branch in ward 9a – which was not judged to be in good standing – was included in the final audit report, which was submitted to the ANC's national executive committee meeting last month.
Pay Mashego, the branch secretary in ward 9a, confirmed this week that his branch was not in good standing. "I can confirm to you that our branch has lapsed. We have been dysfunctional since April this year. We are waiting for the region to give us the go-ahead to launch our branch again before we go to Mangaung," said Mashego, who was clearly unaware that the auditors from Luthuli House had declared his branch to be in good standing.
Preliminary audit reports are subject to queries. In the case of the Bohlabela region, ANC members have questioned why nearly all the branches had a similar addition of 100 members.
"If during the preliminary audit they could not find the 100 members, where do these members come from suddenly in a space of a month? You can ask any member of the ANC – it is not easy to recruit 100 members in a space of a month," said an ANC member, who asked not to be named for fear of being victimised.
Aggrieved ANC members claimed that officials in all four regions in Mpumalanga were instructed to capture forms that had not been signed or were without stamps from the bank, which serves as proof that members had paid their annual membership fees of R12.
According to ANC sources, the branches that were allowed to inflate members were those that supported a second term for Zuma. In cases where branches struggled to get 100 names, regional leaders instructed administrators to obtain names from other branches in the region.
ANC members also claimed that leaders in Nkomazi, a subregion in Ehlanzeni, paid thousands of rands in membership fees for ghost members. Ehlanzeni, which incorporates Nelspruit, is home to Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza, a staunch supporter of Zuma.
ANC members in the province said the sudden increase in membership in Nkomazi over the past few months surprised them.
"The average membership in the area is 1 300 per branch. The municipality alone has 39 000 members. Leaders believe that, for every 100 members you are entitled to send two delegates to Mangaung.
"They pumped in R600 000 to pay for membership. Nkomazi alone is bigger than the Northern Cape and Western Cape. They are bigger than some regions in Mpumalanga. It is now second after eThekwini (Durban). Only God knows how they recruited the new members," said an ANC member.
"People are no longer interested in meetings of the ANC, unless you talk about service delivery. If you call an ordinary meeting of the ANC, people hardly attend. Because many branches cannot quorate, regional leaders at times forge signatures. They sign for people who did not attend – a week before the branch general meeting, where nominations for those who will attend the conference in Mangaung are made. By the time you go to the branch general meeting, the attendance register has long been signed. When Luthuli House auditors come, they find signatures when, in fact, less than 10% of members attended."
The M&G understands that the wrangle over membership is also causing disarray in eThekwini, the ANC's largest region. The region has more than 100 branches and is expected to be influential in Mangaung. However, many branches appear in a state of chaos.
Forty-six branches in eThekwini are holding their general meetings this weekend to make decisions about Mangaung, including their preferred candidates for the top six positions.
According to an ANC source familiar with the process, the membership rolls had, by the time of going to press on Thursday afternoon, not been sent out. The source did not believe the rolls would be ready by the weekend. This was, according to the source, "because there are differences between the national roll and the provincial roll. The challenge is to collate the two."
The source was unable to say how large the differences were between these audited figures, but said the "membership roll crisis" could lead to the branch meetings not being held. "It's no use having the numbers if you can't take them to Mangaung," said the source.
The M&G was also told that about 30 branches in eThekwini were still to hold their annual general meetings to elect new leaders. These branches were deemed not to be in good standing in the run-up to the regional conference earlier this year. There are allegations that these branches were disqualified because they were going to vote against current chairperson Sibongiseni Dhlomo, who was considered the choice of the province's pro-Zuma premier, Zweli Mkhize.
The source said that there had been intensive recruitment work done, especially with the deployment of 10 volunteers to each voting district to raise membership numbers, but membership figures were being manipulated because of "internal strife" at branch and regional level.
Said the source: "People are fighting for positions that they will hold for the next two years, so we have branches with, say, 400 members suddenly ballooning to 900 before branch annual general meetings. Who pays for their membership and how they are processed is questionable, but it does ensure certain people are elevated to positions."
A lack of consistency in records – some membership cards apparently do not have expiry dates and there is a lack of clarity over one-, two- and five-year memberships on cards – has also been used to keep members out of branch meetings.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said he was yet to receive a complaint regarding the ANC's auditing process. He refused to comment about the details of the documents in the M&G's possession, because he had not seen them.
"A person might give you fake documents. When people go to a conference they become desperate. I don't think there should be ghost members. If there are queries, why are people not raising them with the auditors and the organisation? Why would you be regarded as a genuine member if you take internal matters to the media? I am responsible for these kinds of queries. It seems people are now replacing my office with the M&G. Once people behave that way, we suspect they are being mischievous," said Mantashe.