Former ANC eThekwini chairperson Zandile Gumede has warned those in the party's higher structures to refrain from attempting to influence its elective conference next year. Gumede wrote a letter calling for unity in the region, saying she was alive to external and internal forces who wanted to influence the outcomes of the conference. "We warn our comrades to not be influenced by money and business people within and outside of our movement. We also know that there are those who serve in higher structures who have a keen interest in the outcomes of the conference and they'll use all means to direct the outcomes. Let us be vigilant and close ranks."This is a regional conference not a provincial, nor a national conference. As the biggest region, we cannot be immune to such influences because of the strength of our numbers but our immediate task is to get our house in order. We have to unite and not allow former or current leaders at different levels to set the agenda for us in the region," she wrote.The region, which is the biggest in the ANC, was disbanded after it failed to go to conference in July.Gumede, who enjoys significant support in the region, has availed herself for the position of chairperson.She will face off against Thabani Nyawose, who is believed to be favoured by provincial secretary Mdu Ntuli.But sources say Gumede has the backing of provincial chairperson Sihle Zikalala.eThekwini region vulnerable to all vultures In the letter, Gumede said: "We are likely to have a less contested conference but if we do have a contest it will not be verminous but democratic. This means it will be practising of democracy. We want to end toxic and bitter fights within the region. We will still be comrades after the conference and continue to work together for the good of society. All perspectives want to see unity at the end of the day because we are all tired of constantly fighting each other."She said the region was divided and fragmented into factions."As this biggest branch we are at our weakest point and vulnerable to all vultures who are opposed to progress. Our first approach is to unite all comrades and we have long started to engage those who are in different perspectives. We are in talks and optimistic about positive outcomes."She added that her call for unity was to ensure the party emerged with a collective leadership representing different perspectives and generations. "We want to see those from our leagues, including the veterans and those who served in people's army as part of leadership collective. A collective that will be comprised of those who come from our allies in the trade union, communist party, civil society and other progressive forces."Gumede faces legal battles ahead of elective conference Gumede is embroiled in a mountain of legal battles after she was charged with fraud and corruption in connection with a R208m tender.Last week, the Hawks and the Asset Forfeiture Unit attached assets of hers and her co-accused.Her supporters said the raid was a ploy by her political foes to besmear her name for political reasons. Gumede also appeared in court on Friday for allegedly contravening her bail conditions but suffered no consequences as there had been anmiscommunication about her living arrangements.