ANC president Jacob Zuma's home province of KwaZulu-Natal showed extraordinary growth, gaining almost a 100 000 new members between the beginning of this year and the time the provincial audits were completed in June.
According to ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe's organisational report, which was presented on Sunday to the ANC's 53rd national conference at the University of Free State in Mangaung, the province grew from 244 990 in January to 331 820 members in June.
KwaZulu-Natal has shown remarkable growth – the biggest among the provinces – since the ANC's last elective conference in Polokwane five years ago. In 2007, the province had 102 742 members, which has trebled during a period when the ANC's national membership has almost doubled. In 2007, the ANC's total membership was just over 620 000 and it now stands at just over 1.2-million.
Other province's considered to be supportive of Zuma have also shown remarkable growth. In the Free State, where membership was at just over 61 000 at Polokwane, then dipped to just over 41 000 in 2010, membership grew to 76 334 in January 2012 and then to 121 074 in June this year.
In Mpumalanga, another Zuma stronghold, figures rose from almost 55 000 in 2007, dipped to just over 46 000 in 2010, and then rose to 98 892 in January this year. At the time of the ANC audit in June, the membership had risen to 132 729.
Both the Northern and the Western Cape saw drops in their figures from between January and June. The former went from 42 432 to 36 428, while the latter dropped from 43 397 at the beginning of the year to 38 499 in June.
The Eastern Cape, another province where support is split between Zuma and his deputy president, Kgalema Motlanthe, who will contest the presidential position at this conference, also saw a drop from January (225 597) to 187 585. Gauteng grew from almost 60 000 in 2007 to 121 223 in January this year and then to 134 909. Limpopo also grew from almost 68 000 at Polokwane to 114 385 in January and then 161 68 in June, while the North West went from around 47 000 in Polokwane to 114 385 in January and 75 145 in June this year.
In his report, Mantashe noted that during the membership audit process in June this year, "it became clear that a lot of the membership is falling through the cracks, either as a result of gatekeeping or mere inefficiency in capturing of membership".
Said Mantashe's report: "Gatekeeping is not a technical problem but a political one, wherein members of the ANC are deliberately excluded form processes. This is most glaring when we go to conferences when comrades try to have to have more members who are likely to support them in the elections and seek to marginalise those who are likely to support a different candidate."
During his address, Mantashe criticised the existence of "paper members" within the party who were recruited in bulk by leaders with political and economic aspirations: "These members cannot believe in the ANC, they can only believe in 'me' [the person who bought their membership]", he said.
He also added that political education was an imperative if one was to "empower branches and combat gatekeeping".
Despite a spate of political assassinations in KwaZulu-Natal this year, Mantashe was glowing about the "organisational stability" in the province, which he felt made it possible for the leadership to "deal with the many challenges there, particularly, assassinations".
The ANC's official membership is 1 220 057 members as of June, with the party having 4 307 branches. Of these, 3 687 are represented in Manguang. However, a question mark hangs over the credentials of the Free State branches, following a letter from members in the province outlining their grievances related to the party's compliance with a Constitutional Court ruling on Friday, which declared the provincial elective committee's decisions and resolutions taken there to be "unlawful and invalid".
In his analysis of the other provinces, Mantashe noted in his report the "deepened" factionalism in the province, "with factions giving themselves names 'Regime Change' and 'Ramkraal'. This extreme form of division characterised both regional and provincial conferences.
"The two court cases seeking nullification of the provincial conference reflected the destabilisation of the ANC whenever a group loses a conference, a tendency that the ANC must confront."