LUTHULI House moved quickly to mediate in the battle for the control of the African National Congress (ANC) in North West province, when provincial leaders were called to an urgent meeting yesterday.

A provincial general council on Sunday collapsed into chaos when senior provincial leaders linked to President Jacob Zuma's second-term bid, including chairman Supra Mahumapelo, were suspended, prompting the meeting yesterday with ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe.

North West appears to be the focus of intense lobbying to block Mr Zuma's bid for re-election at the ANC's Mangaung national conference later this year, amid claims that North West Premier Thandi Modise was the only provincial government head - apart from Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale - with strong links to the campaign against Mr Zuma.

ANC spokesman Keith Khoza said yesterday's meeting was meant to discuss "the developments over the weekend". The provincial general council convened on Sunday to discuss policy documents, but instead moved to suspend Mr Mahumapelo, deputy provincial secretary Gordon Kegakilwe and provincial treasurer Philemon Mapulane, all linked to Mr Zuma's campaign.

North West ANC spokesman Kenny Morolong yesterday discredited the weekend gathering, saying those who attended were not legitimate branch delegates. "It was constituted by a rented crowd instead of branch delegates," he said.

This development comes as former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema - who had been leading the campaign to oust Mr Zuma before he was expelled from the party in April - was due to address rallies in North West today and on Saturday, in a bid to garner support against Mr Zuma.

ANC Youth League North West chairman Papiki Baboile said yesterday the league was represented at the provincial council. South African Communist Party North West provincial secretary Madoda Sambatha said it was unfortunate that a policy meeting was compromised because of leadership squabbles.

"We were invited to a policy discussion of the ANC but it was reduced to an opportunistic debate on the provincial leadership," he said.

An ANC national executive committee deployee in North West, Thaba Mufamadi, said the team did not know of any leaders who had been removed. "We will be interacting with the provincial leadership this week to try and bring everything back to normal," said Mr Mufamadi, who has also been linked to the anti-Zuma campaign.