The exit from active politics of liberation fathers like Nelson Mandela and the deaths earlier of other struggle icons such as Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Raymond Mhlaba and others has weakened the cohesion of the ANC.
The glue that kept the organisation together for the last 95 years - quality leadership - is flaking with their disappearance.
It was to be expected that the ANC that ushered in our democracy was itself going to face the challenge of democratising itself. Some of the strategies and tactics used by the liberation fathers to keep the party united were going to be tested by the democracy we have today, hence the need to review them.
Albeit undemocratic, the manipulation of leadership in which the contestation of positions was discouraged, helped the movement to remain strong for many decades.
The fact that the ANC currently has an unprecedented number of candidates vying for the party presidency is a clear indication that the organisation has to democratise. It is not a coincidence that Thabo Mbeki is being challenged by his deputy Jacob Zuma, and businessmen Tokyo Sexwale and Cyril Ramaphosa for the hot-seat, but this is a development towards the party's democratisation.
But the internal squabbling raises the question of whether the ANC still has the calibre and quality of leadership that will rise above factionalism after the Limpopo conference.
In about a month's time, the ANC will elect a new leadership that could make or break the organisation as it marches towards its centenary in 2012.
While the movement cannot afford to return to some of the tactics that were employed by the Fort Hare Generation to keep unity, it is crucial that the organisation maintains the quality leadership and spirit of working for unity as their predecessors did.
This "extraordinary generation" as Saki Macozoma, ANC NEC member, thinker and businessman described it recently, emerged from the University of Fort Hare, Lovedale and Healdtown colleges.
With the intellectual capacity and quality brought to the ANC by the old generation on the way out, a vociferous cadreship from the working class and trade union movement with their own class demands and own way of doing things, situated far from ANC tradition and organisational culture, is presenting a strong force. Interestingly, the same working class is one of the ANC's motive forces that drive its very existence.
Where different or opposing classes mix , there is bound to be a clash. Leadership quality also suffers because of unfamiliar behaviour that might manifest as ill-discipline and show a lack of respect for existing organisational protocol. It is against this background that the behaviour of some leaders might be found to be contrary to the party protocol in the run-up to Limpopo.
Leadership contests and the contestation of ideas are part and parcel of a democratic society and a sign that our democracy is working and strengthening.
Macozoma, giving a lecture titled Conversations on Leadership at the University Wits University on Thursday night, expressed comfort with the multiplicity of candidates contesting the ANC presidency.
But Macozoma, whose views often reflect the inner thinking in the ANC, is irked by the lack of respect for organisational protocol by some candidates.
Macozoma said during the reign of the Fort Hare Generation, being an ANC leader was seen as a calling and "leaders were seen to be tried and tested by time, quality of their judgment, resilience, singularity of purpose, courage and above all empathy for the people".
"Of course people had aspirations and did whatever they could within the norms and values that existed then, to advance their leadership ambitions."
While Macozoma conceded that times and conditions have changed, the organisation's norms and values still apply.
"There is now a new conjuncture, the ANC faces new challenges," he said.
Without sounding alarmist, the country must prepare for the consequences of either Zuma or Mbeki losing in Limpopo. Potentially this loss might cause instability in the ANC and the country towards the party's January 8 2012 centenary.
Such a political catastrophe will only be prevented when the ANC delegates elect a leadership of "extraordinary" quality such as the Fort Hare Generation. Nothing less than a "tried and tested" leadership of the ANC will save this country from the abyss of a tribal war.
Aubrey Matshiqi, of the Centre for Policy Studies, said that irrespective of who wins in Limpopo, the squabbles will continue. The two camps will try to win the country's presidency in 2009.
"The next leader [of the ANC] will have a difficult task of healing the ANC and tripartite alliance. Such a leader will have to be strong or, if he is weak, he must have a strong collective around him," said Matshiqi.
Macozoma suggested a leadership review as one solution, saying "there is nothing wrong for the ANC to pay attention to leadership renewal".
Leaders that should be elected in Limpopo, according to Macozoma, should be visionary and able to articulate the ANC's vision to all South Africans. He said out of the Polokwane conference there should emerge a leadership that is non-sectarian and visionary and has the ability to articulate party vision, manage evolution and its ambiguities and open opportunities for people.
Macozoma said the next leadership of the ANC, if it is to remove impediments, needs to spend time together and learn together, build its cadreship and mobilise its motive forces and reduce the social distance, especially of leaders from the masses and open internal dialogue.
"The things that happen in the ANC are due to the fact that the leaders do not have time to sit down together and discuss and differ," said Macozoma.
Matshiqi is optimistic. He said throughout its history, the ANC has been able to deal with differences.
"I don't think the ANC should be in despair. A party as old as the ANC should be able to repair its own damage.''