A POWER struggle in Eastern Cape is threatening to destabilise the ANC, with factions fighting over the control of the ruling party's most populous support base.

The province is to hold its elective conference soon and the chief rivals competing for power are MEC for finance and economic development Mcebisi Jonas and health MEC Phumulo Masualle.

With more than 153000 of the ANC's 621000 members, Eastern Cape remains the most influential province in the ruling party.

Sowetan has learnt that ANC members who secretly support Cope and are on the side of Jonas, are siding with the faction that supported former president Thabo Mbeki's failed bid to get a third term as party president.

Together they are determined to upset President Jacob Zuma's control of the province and could set the ball rolling for an early succession race in the 97-year-old movement.

Both Masualle and Jonas supported Zuma's rise to power ahead of the Polokwane conference in 2007.

But Jonas, who supported Tokyo Sexwale's so-called "third way" at first, now reportedly leads an anti-left group opposed to the influence of the SACP and Cosatu in the ANC.

Phumulo, who is also the national treasurer of the SACP, is seen as representing the left bloc, which wants to consolidate Zuma's hold on the province.

Acting provincial secretary Pemmy Majodina told the Daily Dispatch that preparations for the conference were under way, adding that all branches had been given until June 28 to conclude their branch general meetings.

She said regions in the province were also holding regional conferences in preparation for the coming conference.

The elective conference also comes as the ANC's national executive committee has identified the province, with North West and Western Cape, as one of three "problematic" provinces, where infighting poses a threat to the stability of the organisation.

The ANC recently expelled 57 councillors accused of working with Cope while holding positions in ANC-controlled municipalities.