THE African National Congress (ANC) in the Eastern Cape has discovered that some of the 180,000 people on its books are "ghost members" created by gatekeepers who want to control branches and influence the party’s December conference.

The ANC considers branches to be its most important structures. But its leadership battle, which is intensifying as branches begin nominating leaders for election at its conference, has exposed floutings of its rules.

Eastern Cape ANC secretary Oscar Mabuyane said this week that some people on the party’s books were not even aware that they were members.

The ANC discovered that databases from public and private institutions had been used to get people’s details. ANC membership forms were filled in using that information, and signatures were faked or marked with an "X".

The people who faked the membership forms deposited a R12 joining fee directly into the ANC’s bank account, so the ghost members could be deemed to be in "good standing".

Some members absconded with the ANC membership lists recently, to prevent branches from meeting and nominating a new batch of leaders.

"If branch secretaries are not feeling comfortable about the branch general meeting, they decide not to allow the branches to sit — they run away with the material (membership registers)," Mr Mabuyane said.

"Foreign tendencies of gatekeeping" pointed to a weak ANC infrastructure in its heartland.

"People micromanage others, nudging them to manipulate the system," Mr Mabuyane said.

The power struggle has caused apathy among members, resulting in ANC structures in the Eastern Cape facing a serious quality deficit, and raising fears that these people will remain apathetic when the 2014 elections are held.

Mr Mabuyane said the existence of ghost members was discovered when the membership register was checked ahead of branch meetings to discuss issues related to Mangaung, and it was still being investigated.