Gwede Mantashe has admitted that the majority of ANC branches were in disarray, becoming active only during conferences and elections.
The party has been battling over the years to recruit quality members to its ranks. But most of those who have joined the ruling party appeared to be inspired mainly by the desire to enrich themselves and their families.
In the run-up to the national conference, ANC branches were engaged in open warfare due to divisions and power struggles over who should emerge as the party's leader between president Jacob Zuma and deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe.
"In the main, the most serious problem is the fact that in the majority of branches there is little or no political life. Branches get revived when we are heading for conferences and elections. Basically our branches are driven by the need to either nominate delegates or candidates for local government elections in the main. This is at the centre of a membership that is not politically conscious and therefore susceptible to manipulation," said secretary general Gwede Mantashe during his organisational report at the Mangaung conference on Sunday.
Mantashe added that intensive branch political education was important in order to improve the quality of members who joined the ANC.
"There is an ongoing debate as to whether the ANC needs a big membership instead of the focus being on quality of membership. Quantity and quality are not mutually exclusive. Active political education and involvement of membership in the political life of the organisation can transform the quantity into quality," said Mantashe.
"Branches must make every take the oath as prescribed by rule 4.15 of the [ANC's] constitution. New members must be inducted and therefore start political education at the point of recruitment. This is where developing an active and politically conscious membership should be emphasised."
Mantashe also condemned the culture of slates during leadership elections and said they weakened the movement.
"We all ride on the wave of that slate but when work needs to be done between conferences you find a number of fellow travelers … We must elect leaders on the basis of capacity and not on the basis of slates," said Mantashe.
Because of factionalism and slates "good comrades fall through the cracks … The focus of lobbying must be about deepening democracy in the ANC … The focus should never been on personality," he said.
Despite deepening challenges facing the party, Mantashe revealed that the ANC's membership had grown phenomenally in the past five years, from 621 000 members to 1.2-million.
The ANC grew its membership particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West and the Free State. But the party grew marginally in the Northern Cape, Western Cape and the Eastern Cape.
Mantashe added that growing membership was a necessary step in building the necessary capacity for taking on any competition in future.