Delegates brawled and hurled chairs, the police fired stun grenades, blood was spilled and ambulances carried away the wounded in a new outbreak of the factional fighting that could prolong the power of South African President Jacob Zuma.
The violent clashes at a regional meeting of South Africa's ruling party on Sunday were the latest evidence of growing chaos among the factions that are battling for control of the African National Congress as it seeks to choose a successor to Mr. Zuma.
Analysts are warning that the ANC's internal feuding could make it impossible for the party to elect Mr. Zuma's successor at a planned December conference. That would leave him in control of the ruling party as it approaches a national election in 2019.
Violence and legal disputes have tainted a growing number of ANC meetings in the lead-up to the December conference. Several provincial conferences have been thrown into confusion by legal challenges, raising the risk that the December conference could be postponed or could collapse into fighting or legal uncertainty, analysts say.
At least eight people were taken to hospital in the early hours of Sunday morning after a vicious midnight battle between factions at the provincial ANC meeting in East London, in the province of Eastern Cape.
It was the second night of violence at the Eastern Cape meeting. The meeting descended into shambles as delegates threw dozens of metal and plastic chairs at each other. Several delegates were bloodied, one was taken away on a stretcher and eight were hospitalized. Hundreds of delegates abandoned the meeting and tried to hold a parallel meeting after it was clear they would lose the votes.
Deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, one of the three main rivals in the race to succeed Mr. Zuma, said he was disturbed to see "chairs flying – a festival of chairs."
His supporters won the votes at the meeting after the clash with a rival faction. But Mr. Ramaphosa said the ANC should be deeply ashamed of the violent scenes. "This is not the behaviour that is expected of members of the ANC," he told reporters in East London. "As the ANC we have got to condemn violence as a method of addressing our differences."
The race for the ANC leadership has become increasingly tense and fiercely contested as Mr. Zuma faces the prospect that his preferred candidate and ex-wife, the former African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, could lose to Mr. Ramaphosa.
Several provincial meetings, including those of Northern Cape, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal, have been challenged in recent legal battles. One recent court ruling vetoed the election of pro-Zuma leaders in KwaZulu-Natal, the key stronghold of Mr. Zuma and Ms. Dlamini-Zuma. Those battles are unlikely to be resolved before December, making it easier for factions to challenge the December conference.
The losing faction in the Eastern Cape also sought a court order to overrule the voting results on the weekend, but a local court rejected the bid on Monday.
Analysts say the clashes are a symptom of the deepening splits over Mr. Zuma's leadership. But the President could use the violence and legal battles for his own purposes, they say.
"Zuma is hell-bent on staying in power, and both he and his faction are prepared to destroy the ANC to do so," said Justice Malala, a leading political commentator.
"The collapse of these provincial structures will ensure a national conference of the ANC will not be held in December and the Zuma leadership will stay in power."
Another analyst, Anton Harber, said the violence on the weekend has strengthened the possibility that the December conference might never happen.
There have already been widespread concerns about vote-buying and fake memberships – common tactics to control the outcome of ANC meetings. In the KwaZulu-Natal region, one faction was able to create 4,000 fake memberships, according to an ANC official who testified at a provincial inquiry last month.