South Africa

We didn’t start the fire: Tshwane ‘unrest’ exposes ANC’s disconnect

By Ranjeni Munusamy 22 June 2016

The ANC has found it extremely difficult to admit that the announcement of Thoko Didiza as its mayoral candidate for Tshwane sparked a wave of violence it is unable to control. A number of senior leaders say that irrespective of who was chosen, there would have been a rebellion from within ANC ranks. The ANC is blaming the burning of public property and looting on “thugs”, “anarchists” and “hooligans” but the initial stoking of fires clearly came from inside. Disowning its supporters does not exonerate the ANC from responsibility for allowing factionalism and patronage to engulf the organisation and for the state of unrest in the country. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

In South Africa, political fortunes have been known to swing wildly. Tshwane executive mayor Kgosientso “Sputla” Ramokgopa was apparently riding high a few weeks ago. Now he is caught in the vortex of a political storm that will see him lose his job and be blamed for an outbreak of violence that casts him as a villain and a hero simultaneously.

In mid May, President Jacob Zuma addressed the Gauteng provincial general council (PGC) where he shot down the notion of state capture and preached party unity for the ANC to win local government elections decisively. The Gauteng ANC had previously been critical of Zuma’s leadership. After the Constitutional Court ruled earlier this year that Zuma had violated the Constitution, the Gauteng provincial executive committee said in a statement that the president “should reflect deeply and do the right thing to resolve the unprecedented crisis that the ANC currently faces”.

But after the PGC meeting, Gauteng did a spectacular backflip. The Gauteng ANC leadership announced it would accept Zuma’s apology for the Nkandla debacle and leave the matter there. One of the people who apparently agitated for the province to back down was Sputla Ramokgopa. He is said to have led the charge that provincial chairman Paul Mashatile and others had overreached in their criticism of Zuma. ANC insiders say Ramokgopa apparently adopted this position in the hope of getting high level political cover when the ANC chose its mayoral candidates. His position has been under threat for some time and the chances of him returning as the ANC’s mayoral candidate for Tshwane were minimal.

He decided to roll the dice for political protection. It did not work.

Ramokgopa received no protection and was left dangling when the ANC regional executive committee omitted his name from the list of three possible mayoral candidates for Tshwane. The provincial ANC was not about to throw him a lifeline after he had challenged them.

Here’s where the story gets complicated. The Gauteng leadership did not favour the leader of the opposing faction, deputy ANC chairman in Tshwane Mapiti Matsena, or any of the other names on the list. But they were not the ones who got to make the decision on how to resolve the issue. The ANC’s national leadership took over.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said in various interviews on Tuesday that the Gauteng provincial leadership asked for the national ANC’s intervention because the two Tshwane factions were “fighting too hard”. But Gauteng leaders say the name of Thoko Didiza was floated by the ANC head of campaigns Nomvula Mokonyane last year. The allegation about Didiza being “imposed” is therefore not without foundation – it was not the province that decided to appoint her.

The decision by the ANC national executive committee to delay the announcement of the Tshwane mayoral candidate heightened tensions around the issue, by which time Ramokgopa and Matsena’s supporters were already being churned up. The list of names of all other mayoral candidates was announced late on Sunday night, while Didiza’s candidacy was announced at a media briefing on Monday. Within hours, violence had erupted in areas around Tshwane.

The ANC disowned the violence that flared up in Attridgeville and Mamelodi on Monday night, initially claiming it was perpetrated by “thugs” and people posing as their members by wearing ANC T-shirts. ANC leaders contradicted themselves several times on Tuesday, trying to wash their hands of responsibility, even though this was an internal party fight.

Mantashe told the SABC that the ANC did anticipate that there would be trouble once they announced Didiza as the candidate. He told eNCA that no matter who was chosen, the factions backing Ramokgopa and Matsena were “going to run amok”. Mantashe also said people from other parties were responsible for looting and thuggery.

Gauteng ANC leaders said in media interviews that the violence was being fuelled by “opportunistic elements” and thugs. The two people at the centre of the storm, Ramokgopa and Matsena, also distanced themselves from the “unrest” – the term used by the National Party government to describe mass protest action against apartheid has made an unexpected comeback in the Tshwane revolt.

Matsena said in an interview on Radio 702 that “thugs and criminals” were responsible. He would not admit or deny that the announcement of Didiza’s candidacy was what led to communities going on the rampage. “I don’t think members of the ANC are against the decision (to nominate Didiza). It is a very good decision. All of us must rally behind it,” Matsena said.

At a community meeting in Atteridgeville, Ramokgopa said that due to “tussles” in Tshwane, the ANC had decided that Didiza should be the compromise candidate. He said the delivery programme in Tshwane would continue as this was the ANC’s mandate, not that of individuals.

The crowd would have none of it. “No Sputla, no vote,” they chanted. Clearly these were ANC members and supporters sending a message to their party.

ANC leaders, particularly from Gauteng province, fanned out trying to quell the anger. But by Tuesday afternoon, the violence had spread to Hammanskraal and Soshanguve, and later Mabopane.

Mokonyane apparently did not get the memo that the ANC was to distance itself from the violence. In an interview with PowerFM, Mokonyane said the protests were “orchestrated” and that ANC members protesting against Didiza’s nomination did not understand ANC processes.

We must first say it started with members of the ANC misbehaving,” Mokonyane said. “I was next to Pretoria showgrounds on Sunday and members of the ANC were carrying placards and coffins; they created this. It was then hijacked by agent provocateurs.”

But the narrative that people other than ANC members were responsible for the violence was also trumpeted by government. At a security cluster media briefing on Tuesday afternoon, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula called those involved in the violence “anarchists, hooligans and gangsters”. “This is the capital city of South Africa. We are not going to allow anarchists to take over,” she said.

State Security Minister David Mahlobo claimed government knew who was responsible for the violence in Tshwane. “We know the people who are involved, but we are not going to conduct our investigation in public,” Mahlobo said, parroting a similar line he had taken when schools were being burnt in Vuwani, Limpopo recently. Like in Vuwani, he also claimed arrests were imminent.

In response to questions about the failure of intelligence services to foresee and prevent the outbreak of violence, Mahlobo said he needed time to explain to the media how intelligence worked. Apparently the minister is of the opinion that intelligence information serves a purpose other than ensuring the security of the state and its citizens and the prevention of crime and disorder.

The events of Monday and Tuesday have exposed multiple failures of the ANC leadership. The party has failed to implement its own resolutions to eliminate factional warfare and competition for positions in its ranks. It has failed to disinfect itself of the patronage networks that have consumed its structures. Mostly, the ANC has failed to listen to its members, which is why it has resorted to blaming others for what is clearly party infighting. The ANC has also failed to take responsibility for the violence and killings in several parts of the country over its election lists. And in Tshwane, the ANC failed to consult and read the mood in its structures and therefore set up its mayoral candidate for failure.

Because the ANC is in denial about all these problems, it is clearly unable to get a grip of the situation to stop the violence. By continuously writing off the infighting as criminality without dealing with the source, it is allowing political violence to be entrenched.

The deaths and destruction of property during this election period is a direct result of a leadership being out of touch with the sentiment on the ground.

The disconnectedness of the ANC leadership from its own structures and the communities they are meant to serve could lead to more violence and killings as the local government election campaign intensifies.

What happens if the ANC loses seats or control of municipalities in the elections? Will they sit back and watch their members and supporters rebel? If the ANC is failing to listen to its own members now, what chance is there that they will hear and respond to communities across the country desperate for their attention?

The violence in Tshwane is not an anomaly. It is the cost of a leadership disconnect that is seeing terms like “unrest”, “hotspots” and “no-go zones” making a comeback in post-democracy South Africa.

Six weeks before the elections, old horrors are the new normal. DM

Photo: Aerial views of a burning Atteridgeville from the EWN chopper on Tuesday morning. Picture: Aki Anastasiou/EWN.



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