Eastern Cape ANC provincial secretary Oscar Mabuyane says the party can no longer afford to postpone its long-overdue conference because the provincial executive committee is constitutionally beyond its term of office.Earlier this week, the ANC announced that it was yet again postponing the conference, which was scheduled for this weekend. This is the third time the party has done so. The conference should have first taken place in July.In an interview with City Press, Mabuyane said these delays meant that ANC members were now in “referees’ optional time”. Mabuyane, who is likely to go head to head against current chairperson and premier Phumulo Masualle for the position of party chair when the conference does happen, attributed most of the problems to unresolved disputes. He said more than 100 disputes had been lodged by branches in some of the ANC’s key regions.These included 37 disputes in Amathole District Municipality, 20 in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro and 30 in the Buffalo City Metro. All three regions are believed to be sympathetic to Masualle, whose supporters are largely associated with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s presidential campaign. “It is not our conference as leadership. It is a conference of branches of the ANC,” said Mabuyane. “So, when there are queries and disputes arising out of the processes within the branches, we are compelled to give space and time for those processes to be concluded. “We are allowing time [to resolve disputes] because we want to have a very clean conference, as we did at our last provincial conference.”The latest postponement comes on the back of various visits to the province by presidential hopefuls, who have thrown their hats in the ring to lead the ANC at the upcoming December national elective conference. Among those hoping to be elected president of the ANC are the two frontrunners, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and former African Union Commission chairperson Dlamini-Zuma. Both have campaigned in the province on different occasions this year.DivisionsThe Eastern Cape, which is the second biggest after KwaZulu-Natal in terms of ANC membership, is regarded as a significant constituency for those with leadership ambitions. Among other presidential hopefuls who have recently visited the province are Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and Mathews Phosa, the ANC’s former treasury-general. But before playing a significant role in national politics, the province still has to deal with divisions.Besides the Mabuyane and Masualle two-horse race for chairmanship, other names have come to the fore – including Mcebisi Jonas, the former deputy finance minister, and Nceba Faku, the former mayor of Port Elizabeth, who later abandoned his leadership campaign to lobby for Jonas to take the provincial post. Mabuyane, who is linked to the Ramaphosa campaign, said the elective conference had to happen at the end of September as party members anticipated that most disputes would have been resolved by then.“We are operating now on referees’ optional time because constitutionally, we are beyond our term."If the conference does not happen again in September, that means the national leadership would have to say something about it because structures of the ANC do not have the so-called grace period. “When you arrive at the period where your term ends, you must have a meeting that gives you a new mandate,” he said. The provincial conference is scheduled to take place from September 27 to 30 at a venue yet to be confirmed.In addition, the provincial working committee extended the cut-off date for convening branch general meetings to August 31.Mabuyane said the province had already met the 70% threshold verification process with regard to these branch meetings.This is the percentage needed to convene a conference. However, he added, this had to be confirmed by an audit. “At the same time, we want to give all our branches that are eligible to go to conference the chance to do so. "We do not want disputes on the eve of the conference because they will not be entertained,” Mabuyane concluded.