opinionBy Greg Nicolson
The Gauteng ANC has expressed concern at members who used guns to force an Ekurhuleni branch to vote for President Zuma, but also said it’s part of “healthy tensions”. While branches finalise their nominations for Mangaung, we’re getting reports that the democratic process in the ANC is far from healthy.
A group of 11 people, including one woman, gatecrashed the Thomas Nkobi branch in Rondebult on Saturday, brandishing pistols as they tried to force members to nominate Jacob Zuma for a second term as ANC president.
The intruders weren’t branch members and were wearing “Jacob Zuma phinda” and “Jacob Zuma second term” (not allowed in the lead up to the election) t-shirts, said local party member Sbongile Ntlonti. They claimed to be members of the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) but Ntlonti said they were far too young.
The branch includes members pushing for leadership change, said Ntlonti, and the group of thugs was called in by Ward Councillor Mandiswa Mushweni, a Zuma supporter, when she arrived at the meeting and saw supporters for Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. Mushweni was elected in 2009 and is seen as a Zuma supporter.
The MKMVA members who came to the Rondebult High School were from branches in surrounding areas, said Ntlonti, some from Springs, Vosloorus and Kempton Park, with some being members of the ANC Youth League. “It was nearly to a physical fight. That’s why we decided to phone our leadership,” he said. The pro-Zuma members were reportedly trying to let the intruders enter the branch general meeting so they could vote too.
Wearing an ANCYL t-shirt and beret, Ntlonti was identified as a Motlanthe supporter. “We’re watching you,” the gun-wielding young vets told him, suggesting that if he didn’t vote for Zuma he would be assaulted. According to ANC regulations, branch members in good standing are allowed to nominate a top six of their choice, without predetermined slates being imposed, to run for the top leadership spots at the December national elective conference.
But another member who was at the Nkobi branch said the intruders threatened to kill them if they didn’t vote Zuma. “They said, ‘Guys we have sweated for this country with our own blood so now if you fucking vote for this Motlanthe we are going to kill you’. There was that intimidation you see. So we engaged with them they said no they are visiting all the branches. We said, ‘Where did you get this mandate?’ They said nobody tells them where to go. They said they are the friends of the old ANC members, but we mustn’t vote for this guy Motlanthe.”
The branch meeting was adjourned when the members called the Ekurhuleni regional secretary, who advised them to postpone it. Mushweni and Regional Secretary Tshilidzi Munyai both told Daily Maverick they couldn’t comment on the issue as it was being dealt with at the provincial level. A female branch member who was allegedly insulted in the fracas said the branch executive has told members not to speak to the media.
Since the event was first reported in The Star on Tuesday the Gauteng ANC has tried to dispel claims the branch nomination process is falling prey to manipulation, intimidation and assault. Provincial spokesman Dumisa Ntuli said an investigation had been launched and the MKMVA and ANCYL have both pledged their support, but the MKMVA said it didn’t know anything about the members in question. The party wants the investigation completed by 30 November, the cut off for branches to nominate leaders.
“So far we have not found that evidence (of members bringing guns),” said Ntuli. He did, however, confirm the meeting featured intimidation.
He said there’s no place in branch nominations for outside members.
“There are many issues in the branch regarding the general meeting and nomination process… the investigation will just cut across everyone, including the councillor.”
The Rondebult incident is the most shocking of the acts of intimidation in Gauteng branches, but it follows similar reports from Sedibeng and West Rand. Complaints from Tshwane have related to the nomination process. Ntuli said 300 of around 500 branches have successfully passed their audits and made their nominations and the few incidents of intimidation shows it isn’t becoming a culture in Gauteng. “We think that this thing is a drop in the ocean. The image of the ANC will remain intact.”
Comparing the lead-up to Mangaung with that of past conferences, Ntuli said they’re all different but this time there’s more power in the hands of branch members. “We had not seen this thing when we were going up to Polokwane because then there were lobbies,” he said. “We know in all organizations we have healthy tensions. As long as someone is not killed… because the nomination process is contested, there will be healthy tensions.”
Those 'tensions' will be tested again this weekend when the Nkobi branch meets again. The ANC wants to avoid using police and is instead sending its own officials to monitor the nomination. The branch members, however, are certain the MKMVA members will be back. While the ANC said the incidents are isolated, how do we know the thugs didn’t attempt the same thing at their own or other branches?