The ANC’s national conference has been threatened with court action by delegates whose votes were not counted in elections for new leadership. The conference’s steering committee on Wednesday received two lawyers’ letters saying that its decision to exclude delegates from voting was “wholly unlawful”.

The letter from Selepe Attorneys — representing Metse Ramahuba, Vincent Seemola and Rehab Leso, who are branch members from Limpopo — demanded that the dispute over the 68 delegates who were not allowed to vote be referred to the ANC plenary for discussion or face court action.

The election of Ace Magashule as secretary general of the ANC over Senzo Mchunu came as a surprise on Monday, the free state premier taking the position by a 24 votes. It later emerged that there had been a counting discrepancy with 68 votes unaccounted for.

“Their names were omitted from the voters roll and their nomination forms were also expunged and no explanation was preferred at the conference,” the letter from Selepe Attorneys reads.

The lawyers for the delegates demanded that the ANC decide the fate of the delegates last night, when it became clear that their votes could swing the outcome of the secretary general’s election in favour of former KwaZulu-Natal premier Senzo Mchunu.

Another letter from Ngwenya and Zwane attorneys representing delegates from the Abaqulusi region in KwaZulu-Natal states that the steering committee had initially agreed to count the votes of the 68 delegates but then reneged on this agreement on the day after elections took place.

“We are therefore instructed to demand from you that … (i) all special votes including that of Limpopo regions be counted, (ii) [you] rescind the announcement of the secretary general of the ANC pending the recount of special votes and, (iii) thereafter [a] proper announcement be made on the issue of the secretary general,” Ngwenya and Zwane attorneys wrote.

The Ngwenya Zwane attorneys letter concludes by confirming that the lawyers are instructed to approach the high court on an urgent basis on Wednesday if the ANC does not meet their demands.

The Selepe Attorneys letter said: “Our clients would prefer not to go to court and hereby give the ANC an opportunity to resolve the above, failing which, our clients instruct us to approach the high court on an urgent basis for intervention”.

The letter from Selepe Attorneys said that at a Tuesday night meeting of the steering committee, a decision was taken that only 15 of the 68 votes qualified to be counted.

“The decision of the steering committee is wholly unlawful as our clients are delegates from branches in good standing and were elected at properly constituted branch general meetings … As such, the exclusion of our clients from participating and/or having their votes properly counted is in violation of their constitutional rights and their rights in terms of the ANC constitution,” the letter continues.

On Wednesday ANC North West chairperson Supra Mahumapelo said challenging the election in court would be be mischievous.

“All these other issues about people being uncomfortable about the outcome, it’s neither here nor there. We must accept the outcome with its best and its worst, as members of the ANC. If all cadres can do that, live with the results whether you like them or you don’t. [Let’s] support president Ramaphosa with the collective that is there,” Mahumapelo told journalists on the sidelines of the conference.

By 14h00, the ANC had not yet informed the lawyers whether they intended to raise the complaints in the plenary.