The ANC in 2016: Pushing. Shoving. Hurting.
- Stephen Grootes
- 06 Sep 2016 12:43 (South Africa)
The chaos currently swirling inside the ANC found physical expression on Monday as members of the #OccupyLuthuliHouse movement came face to face with members of the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association. There were ugly scenes; pushing, jostling, shoving and swearing – some of it directed by Umkhonto members, in plain view of video cameras, at working journalists. It was the ugly face of what some parts of the ANC have become. But we shouldn’t be surprised. And we shouldn’t be surprised when it happens again. When tensions rise this high in this country, violence becomes virtually inevitable. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
Marching on the headquarters of the ANC has a long and sometimes terrible history. In the recent past, members of the ANC Youth League held a protest there in 2011, as Julius Malema’s disciplinary hearing got under way. That turned violent almost immediately.
Once, a protest by taxi drivers ended up with Gwede Mantashe hiding in a police Nyala. The Democratic Alliance also held a march there against unemployment. That ended generally peacefully, but some members of the DA were hurt by stones thrown by ANC supporters. And who could ever forget that terrible date, 24 March 1994, before the party moved to Luthuli House, when supporters of the IFP marched on what was then Shell House? Nineteen people were killed after guards protecting the ANC opened fire.
But what happened on Monday was also different. It was members of the ANC marching on the ANC. Members of the commentariat and the Twitterati often lament their frustration with the party’s insistence on defending President Jacob Zuma. Imagine how frustrating that must be for members of the ANC – people who predicted what would happen in the local elections, people who have campaigned in their branches against Zuma, only to lose at every turn.
Monday’s march was a very real sign of the frustration some members of the party must be feeling, which is surely an indication that the mechanisms the ANC should have in place to manage these frustrations are failing.
Once Umkhonto entered the fray, violence was always inevitable. This is a group of people who have never been held accountable. They hold no official status in the ANC, no voting power, no clout of a formal structure. In Mantashe’s opinion, the views of the veterans’ leadership, including those luminaries Kebby Maphatsoe and Des van Rooyen, are “sponsored views” rather than the views of proper structures. We presume you can work out who that “sponsor” might be. These are people who wear uniforms, perform exercises in front of crowds, and supposedly “provide security”. With no legal authority to do so. And yet, for reasons unknown, the police often seem happy to let them do it.
As early as 2012, members of this organisation, wearing its uniform and claiming special powers, were involved in beating up people during the ANC centenary lecture in Limpopo. No action was taken against them, either by the police or the party. Even though the metro police in Joburg are now supposedly under the control of the DA, this time will not be any different. It will just be too hot a potato for the cops to handle.
But the real villain here is the ANC itself. It has never held these people accountable. It allows them to behave like an uncontrolled and unpredictable mob. The people who do this, while wearing ANC uniforms, are never named, shamed and expelled. And if people have been doing it for several years, they are not going to stop now. They see themselves almost as a private army.
The absolutely awful truth about it is that the people who lead this organisation, Maphatsoe in particular, do not appear to be the same as those who put their lives on the line during the Struggle. Fairly or unfairly, Maphatsoe and Van Rooyen’s appearance in military fatigues during a press conference last week made them look more like cartoon thugs than people with military experience. It is Maphatsoe who last month agreed to pay former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils half a million rand in damages after admitting to lying. But this was only after Kasrils had given court testimony about how Maphatsoe had deserted Umkhonto. And he is the leader of this organisation? How? And why did his backers sponsor him? Out of the kindness of their hearts?
Then there is their dispute with Mantashe. Last week Mantashe said during a press conference that both Maphatsoe and Van Rooyen were wrong to speak in public about Pravin Gordhan. Then, in the Sunday Times, he made the reference to them having “sponsored views”, surely a reference to their alleged financial dependence on the Gupta family. And yet, the veterans’ association then claimed during the protest on Monday that they would not allow Mantashe to accept a memorandum from the march organisers.
It’s hard to think of a move more likely to push Mantashe towards the marchers as quickly as he could possibly go. Mantashe being Mantashe, he would probably have accepted their memorandum anyway. He had a huge interest in not only publicly ignoring the veterans’ association, but also ensuring that the protest ended quickly and peacefully. And he can always say, as he may well feel, that as the marchers were ANC members, he had a duty to hear them himself.
In a way, it was one of those days that ended with his credibility enhanced.
There will be some people who will have seen Monday’s scenes and wonder, perhaps aloud, if we are destined for a situation in which “war vets” start to set the political agenda and if violence will be used by an organised group within the ANC to settle disputes. The sight of military uniforms run amok is always scary, but this is unlikely.
First, we did not have the kind of conventional conflict that Zimbabwe went through – there was conflict and violence, but it was not the same kind of military operations. Also, the violence of our struggle took place a long time ago now. It hasn’t necessarily faded into memory but it hardly dominates our national discourse either. But the real reason is that Maphatsoe simply isn’t up to it. He appears to have no history of actually managing a military force and making it into something. Of course people can change, but that is unlikely.
But the real reason is that as a society, South Africa simply won’t stand for it. This is a country that might be violent and where many people might see violence almost daily, but any uniformed force that operates outside the law would not be tolerated. In countries where paramilitary groups have held sway, they have always been uncontested. This is not the case here as other groups have resources and organisation. And the political opposition is growing stronger and more organised.
And what of the protesters? They say they will be monitoring the ANC to see if it changes. At the moment, they surely seem destined to be disappointed. The faction backing Zuma, which may be “sponsored”, just seems too strong. It has power within the ANC. And the ANC still has power, even though that power is being used to turn on itself. Until 2019. DM
Photo: The ANC’s security head pushes someone who argued that the secretary-general should not be receiving the memorandum. Mantashe’s emergence from Luthuli House saw ANC security officials acting roughly with the crowd and media, pushing their way through the chaos. (Greg Nicolson)