The ANC battle for control of the provinces is officially underway with the party giving the green light for some provinces to prepare for elective conferences. The regional and provincial conferences are expected to again pit party factions against each other following the December elective conference that saw President Cyril Ramaphosa win by a slim majority. Secretary general Ace Magashule has given the provinces and regional structures a July deadline to elect new leaders.However, regional structures and provinces whose mandate only expires after September will have to wait until after the national elections to hold conferences. The party's national executive committee (NEC) was divided over holding off internal conferences until after the 2019 elections in a bid to avoid deepening divisions that played out ahead of the ANC presidential race in December. However, the bid for a postponement failed after it was successfully argued that putting conferences on ice while the mandate of elected officials had already expired would amount to suspending the party's constitution. Branch audits"The difficulty for the ANC is that while it is preparing for elections to stay in government, there are others talking about another campaign looking ahead to five years from now on who will run the ANC," News24 resident analyst Mpumelelo Mkhabela said. Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and Limpopo are due for elections with tense battles already underway in the provinces.In a letter to provincial secretaries and coordinators seen by News24 and dated May 3, Magashule warns that conferences can only go ahead if membership and branch audits are completed and signed off by his office. All disputes need to be resolved and the venues, programmes and credentials of these conferences need to have been communicated to structures within reasonable time. Free State and KwaZulu-Natal have faced successful court challenges over the manipulation of processes at branches.Analysts say the party elections will see factions that have dominated the ANC fight it out for control. The provinces have proved powerful, especially during former president Jacob Zuma's tenure as KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State, North West and Mpumalanga defended him and blocked attempts to recall him. These provinces largely supported Ramaphosa's presidential contender Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Mkhabela said the elective conferences would be "critical" for Ramaphosa who needs to solidify his hold on the party after winning the party presidency by a slight majority.Resolving membership disputes "They are very critical because if he really wants a second term, he will need to have influence in the provinces, but then if he doesn't want a second term then it's another matter," Mkhabela said.Already there have been rumblings about an early national general council to try and oust Ramaphosa. READ: ANC Balance Of Forces: Is Ramaphosa In Control?A fierce contest is expected in KwaZulu-Natal, which is the biggest ANC province, as former chairperson Sihle Zikalala seeks a second term. He was removed from the position after a High Court ruling annulled the 2015 provincial elective conference. The conference is scheduled for May 18-20. In his letter, Magashule states that the conference can only go ahead if membership disputes are resolved. "The national working committee (NWC) urgently requested the KZN provincial task team and NEC deployees to immediately start a process to resolve the issues of membership authenticity and gatekeeping, threats of violence raised by structures in the meetings with the NWC in Lower South Coast, Harry Gwala, Moses Mabhida and Abaqulusi, before their regional conferences convened," Magashule said in his letter. In the Free State no date has been set yet, however, the NWC has given the go ahead for preparations for conference. Disgruntled members have complained bitterly about the provincial task team set up to prepare the province for fresh elections, arguing that it is dominated by Magashule supporters. Battle to replace MabuzaMagashule said in the letter that the province must deal with the issues raised by a December court order that annulled the province's elective conference. The Bloemfontein High Court ruled that the branch general meetings of 14 branches were unlawful and barred them from attending the December national elective conference. "The provincial task team, with the assistance of the NEC deployees, must provide leadership and ensure that all ANC members are part of the process, with the aim towards unity and renewal, and moving beyond the divisions in the province," Magashule states in the letter. A battle to replace former chairperson David Mabuza and his deputy Violet Siwela in Mpumalanga is also expected. The positions became vacant after Mabuza was elected deputy president and Siwela an NEC member. Several candidates have thrown their names into the hat to succeed Mabuza. However, there have been complaints over the redeployment of councillors in the province and Magashule said the national dispute resolution committee would be brought in.The provincial general council is set for May 31. No date has been set for the Limpopo conference. Magashule noted that the province first has to resolve "conflicts with an aim towards unity and renewal of structures". The province was deeply divided ahead of the December elective conference with the majority of delegates backing Ramaphosa. In the Eastern Cape the controversial decision for political intervention to resolve the disputed 2017 "festival of chairs" elective conference is also expected to get underway. Several people were injured and others left the conference when violence broke out. Former provincial chairperson Phumulo Masualle had lodged a dispute, however, the NEC decided that there should be political intervention instead of a new elective conference. This is despite a report by NEC member Sbu Ndebele that recommended a fresh election.