IT IS a sunny Sunday afternoon. A small group of men wait patiently near the gate of Port Elizabeth's Joe Slovo community hall. The area is a hive of activity as small groups of people trickle in to sign an attendance register before going into the hall.
"If you do not belong in this branch, you have no business being here," shouts one of the men to those walking in. "No one from another branch will come to this meeting. We are clear about what we want and will not be distracted. Even those who got married and left this branch are no longer welcome to join us."
No one pays attention to him, but his message is understood. He, like his comrades, has kept close watch on who comes in. This is, after all, no ordinary community gathering. It is where ANC members in this ward, like others around the country, get to debate and nominate whom they want to be the party president and ultimately, leader of Africa's biggest economy.
The branches are racing against time.
They have until November 20 to nominate their preferred candidates for the all important Mangaung conference in next month. Will it be Jacob Zuma or Kgalema Motlanthe?
If the branches do not make the deadline, they will not be represented at the conference and therefore, will forfeit a privilege only enjoyed by ANC members in South Africa: deciding who governs the country.
As the minutes turn to hours on Sunday, one of the men laments that he has been there for at least four hours. But he is prepared to wait longer for the meeting to reach its 448-member quorum.
By late afternoon, the numbers were not enough and branch chairman Mbongeni Bhungane eventually postponed the meeting. He later explained that, while it was only a precursor to a subsequent nominations meeting, it was still not properly organised because a loudhailer meant to announce it to the community was being used elsewhere.
"We have decided to hold the nominations meeting on Tuesday," he said on Sunday.
Come Tuesday evening, the queue of people waiting to register outside the hall is longer than before. This time organisers are confident the meeting will kick off. But hours pass and many of those standing outside the hall in the rain get increasingly agitated. Some get fed-up and leave.
"This is not fair. Some of us came here on hired transport. It left us and now we have to walk home in the rain," one woman said as she walked out the gate.
The meeting was eventually called off and branch leaders are still to reschedule another date to meet.
"It is the confusion with the lists," Bhungane explains, blaming ANC secretary- general Gwede Mantashe whose office compiled a different set of audited membership lists than the ones in possession of branch leaders.
"Some people who are on our list are not on the national list. Even branch executive members are not on the national list. How can that be? Some of them show up in other branches like Motherwell. This is very demoralising for our members. Some of them come [to meetings] and once they see they are not on the list, they leave and meet up with other members on the way and discourage them from coming.
"Some people stay away for reasons known only to them."
Motherwell Ward 57 branch chairman Sithathu Nkosiyaphantsi, whose branch has also postponed its meetings twice, speculates that the low turnout at branch meetings had to do with the fighting between ANC leaders in the region.
"People's morale is low. Some people do not see the significance of these meetings and that is partly our fault. Once we are elected to power, we tend to forget about them. We take decisions that are not in their interest. For example, we are meant to have monthly meetings to keep people updated on issues affecting them. But we do not do that.
"People want to have a say in how the party is run and how they are governed. Instead we only call on them when it is voting time. We turn them into voting cows."
His branch was scheduled to meet on Wednesday night, a second attempt after the first meeting could not continue as it had not reached the 110-member quorum.
By 7.45pm, about 60 people had come through to Fumis'ukoma Primary School in Motherwell.
Organisers worked hard, calling in taxis to ferry people from their homes to the school.
"These days people want to be fetched from home to attend meetings," he says as the taxis offload small groups of people.
At 9pm, the leaders postponed the meeting because it was 10 members short.
"We need to get our people to come to these branch general meetings," regional executive committee member Tony Duba pleaded with the members who sat waiting in the dim classroom.
"We should not take this freedom for granted.
"No other party in the world says to its ordinary members: 'Come and elect your own leaders.' It is only the ANC.
"Our ANC is in power, but our people live in hunger. Just like those in Marikana, when they open their cupboards, they are empty. I am asking you comrades, if we do not do it for ourselves, we need to do it for our children. They deserve a better life."
About 10 minutes later, the members – some of them elderly women using walking sticks – were led to different cars waiting outside while younger members walked home, disappointed that they will have to repeat the process.
Nelson Mandela Bay, which traditionally exerts influence in party matters in the Eastern Cape and nationally, is one of the regions lagging behind with nominations.
"We are progressing, but not at a satisfying pace," provincial secretary Oscar Mabuyane said.
"A couple of regions such as NMB, Buffalo City, Amathole and Joe Gqabi are a bit sluggish ... We have just reinforced teams to push more, but the weather is a serious challenge," Mabuyane said.
The ANC has 59 branches in the Bay and 51 of them passed an audit and qualify to go to the conference.
On Tuesday, Mabuyane said 23 branches had held meetings.
The slow progress, according to a regional executive member, was because members felt their decisions were not taken seriously by leaders.
"It is true that people are demoralised. But we believe it is because of the delay in the implementation of the resolutions taken by branches at the elective conference."
Delegates at that conference in May had resolved to fire mayor Zanoxolo Wayile and some members of his committee.
"Branches are discouraged because they take decisions, but those are not implemented, so they feel there is no point."