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ROAD TO ELECTIVE CONFERENCE

Leaderless and shedding votes, ANC’s embattled Dullah Omar Region races to fix its many problems

Leaderless and shedding votes, ANC’s embattled Dullah Omar Region races to fix its many problems
From left: .ANC Western Cape interim provincial committee convenor Lerumo Kalako (Photo by Gallo Images/Daily Maverick/Leila Dougan) (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach) | The ANC's Xolani Sotashe. (Photo: Supplied)

A region that was once a force to be reckoned with in party politics, the ANC’s Dullah Omar Region in the Cape Town metro, has become frail and is racing against time trying to return to its glory days.

Eight months after being disbanded, the ANC’s once-flagship Dullah Omar Region covering the city of Cape Town is trying to rebuild in time for the crunch December national elective conference.

Plagued for years by infighting and having been disbanded twice in five years, it is now leaderless. The region’s misfortune shows in its waning support among voters – dropping from almost 40% in 2000 to 18% in the last local elections. 

Late Minister of Transport, Dullah Omar, 17 April 2000. (Photo: Supplied)

The region – named after Abdullah Mohamed Omar, the late anti-apartheid activist, lawyer and the first justice minister of democratic South Africa – is the ANC’s largest region in the Western Cape in terms of membership and population, but has been declining in recent years.  

In the 2000 local government elections, the ANC secured 77 seats on the City of Cape Town metro, but now has only 43 out of a total of 231.

Two months after the 2021 local government elections, a group of angry ANC supporters, mostly from branches in Khayelitsha, stormed the party’s Cape Town offices where they demanded that the region be disbanded to avoid further electoral decline before the 2024 national poll.

For the ANC, 2022 is a crucial year as regional, provincial and national conferences are held and the party prepares to elect a leader who will steer it towards the national elections in 18 months. 

Following complaints by disgruntled members and the poor poll showing, the region was disbanded in February, with the ANC’s Interim Provincial Committee citing its failure to prove that it would be ready to hold its conference.

It had first been disbanded in 2017 after a poor showing in the polls and factionalism within the party.  

The region and the province are yet to hold their elective conferences ahead of the national conference in December. To hold a conference, 70% of the branches in a region must have wrapped up all matters and have had their own meetings. Currently, the Dullah Omar Region is at just more than 50%, according to provincial spokesperson Sifiso Mtsweni.

Dullah Omar Region Khayelitsha elections

President Cyril Ramaphosa talks to elderly women in Khayelitsha during the ANC’s election campaign on 21 October 2021, in the run-up to the 1 November municipal elections. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

The Southern Cape Region too is yet to hold its conference. It includes George, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. Mtsweni said some branches were struggling with new demarcations. 

The previous regional executive committee (REC), led by Xolani Sotashe, with Joseph Thee (deputy) and Vuyiso JJ Tyhalisisu (secretary), faced a number of allegations including conference rigging, factionalism and showing no regard for ANC laws and policies.

Sotashe remained the leader of the party on the city council following its disbandment in February. 

Read in Daily Maverick: “Technical glitches could see some ANC Free State branches excluded from the national conference

Although not well documented, the REC faced criticism even from members who served on the committee. One of them was Khaya Yozi who questioned the legitimacy of the 2018 conference – at which he was elected. 

Yozi went so far as not standing as a councillor candidate for the party in Nyanga’s Ward 39, even though he enjoyed overwhelming support from his branch and residents. 

He was also quoted by News24 as welcoming the disbandment of the region, saying: “I was very vocal about the wrongs that were happening and we were trying to save the ANC, but there is a strong cabal in the regional executive committee. We are happy now that sanity has prevailed.”

Daily Maverick’s attempts to obtain comment from him were unsuccessful.

 

In July, Sotashe was removed as leader of the party in the council together with chief whip Thandi Makhasi. At the time, he said this was to reduce his workload, since he is also a subcouncil chairperson.

The party’s support in the Cape metro is at risk of declining further in the 2024 elections, as the Good party, the Patriotic Alliance (PA) and Cape Coloured Congress are making inroads, convincing Capetonians that they are a better alternative.  

The ANC’s declining power in Cape Town contrasts with a relative show of strength in certain local municipalities in the province, where the party has managed to oust the DA through coalitions. Recently, it toppled the DA in Knysna with the help of other parties including the PA and the EFF. The party is also in charge of the Central Karoo, aided by the PA and other parties.  

Overall, however,  ANC support has been dipping – in the last national elections in the Western Cape in 2019, the ANC garnered just more than 28% of the vote – down from a high of 45.2% in 2004. The majority party, the DA attained  55.45%. in 2019. 

 

‘We spent a lot of time arguing’

“The disbanded REC had presided over decades of perpetual organisational decay, glaring and consistently declining electoral support,” said ANC supporter Zuko Mndayi. 

“[There was] no regard for building the party’s political opposition capacity. Branches were built for conference purposes only, characterised by gatekeeping, membership rigging and total disregard of key principles wherein leadership election is concerned. In turn, branches were led by less-capacitated people who were installed to take sides in conferences as opposed to building and campaigning for the ANC.”  

Mandla Geja, who was a Ward 85 candidate in Lwandle, Strand, said internal squabbles were slowly destroying the ANC in the Cape metro. The ANC lost the ward to the DA for the first time in 2021.  

“We spend a lot of time arguing… wasting time we should be using to spread the ANC message to the people,” said Geja, adding that he had received little support from the organisation when he stood as ward councillor.  

Read in Daily Maverick: “Disgruntled ANC Boland members plan to nullify elective conference

A group calling themselves Dullah Omar Regional Activists, which supported the disbandment of the region, said this had to be done to eliminate the risk of further losses in the 2024 national elections. 

“[The region], before the disbandment, was in the hands of the same individuals who, for over a decade now, regressed in electoral support… manipulated party political processes, sold party public representative council seats, collaborated with the DA,” said the group’s Nzulu Gona. 

Seven months after the disbandment, he said there is progress and the region is set to return to its glory days. 

“Back then, we had three branches in good standing, but now we have over 40. The previous leadership did not pose any challenge to the DA and the interim leadership is fixing that.”  

The party has 116 branches in Cape Town but so far only 52 have qualified for the regional conference, according to the Dullah Omar Region summary report signed by Nomvula Mokonyane, head of the Gauteng Organising and Campaign Committee. Gona said he wished the regional conference would sit before the provincial conference.

Tony Ehrenreich and former minister Pallo Jordan at the memorial service for anti-apartheid activist and trade unionist Archie Sibeko in Salt River, Cape Town, on 18 April 2018. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

‘People want honesty’

The late David Dlali was the Dullah Omar Region’s previous leader. Before him it was led by Whitey Jacobs. 

Dlali went on to be a member of Parliament and ministerial adviser before his death near his farm back home in Matatiele, Eastern Cape, in 2012. 

Unionist Tony Ehrenreich was the previous leader of the ANC in council and was elected by Cosatu to be the party’s mayoral candidate in 2011. 

Xolani Sotashe took the reins for two five-year terms until the region was disbanded.  

Sotashe said he did not want to talk about his previous tenure as regional chairperson and rather use his energy campaigning for the ANC. 


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“The less I talk about the current status of the region the better,” he said.

“I have pledged my support to the efforts to renew the ANC, not only in Cape Town but also the whole province. We need to have an ANC in good standing and to have that we must change our behaviour as the ANC. 

“People want honesty, whether or not [the region] is in good standing. If there is no honesty, people will be reluctant to support the ANC.”   

ANC Western Cape convener Lerumo Kalako. (Photo: Velani Ludidi)

ANC Western Cape convenor Lerumo Kalako, speaking at the Oliver Tambo Memorial Lecture in Khayelitsha on Sunday, said the party lost the plot when it started getting too involved in factions rather than trying to better itself. 

“We removed comrade Ebrahim Rasool {from his position as premier) before his term ended following the 2007 conference. We must fight to better the organisation.” 

Rasool was recalled as premier following the watershed 2007 Polokwane conference where Jacob Zuma was elected to lead the organisation. Allegations surfaced in 2005 that Rasool was colluding with journalists who wrote favourable articles about him – which played a part in his removal.

Kalako believes this was when the challenges for the party in the province started. He also complained that the party at the national level only gave them R500,000 to prepare for the 2021 local government elections, which he said was barely enough to challenge the DA.

Ebrahim Rasool, 2018. Photo by Leila Dougan.

The leadership race

There has been little talk about the next chairperson for the troubled Dullah Omar Region. Sotashe declined to say whether he might raise his hand again for the position.  

Ndithini Tyhido, known for his work with the Khayelitsha Development Forum, has shown an interest in being part of the region’s executive.  

The ANC’s Western Cape spokesperson, Sifiso Mtsweni, admitted that it was a big concern that the region does not have an elected REC, but said they had made progress over the past few months as the interim committee.  

“That is why we said, why rush to a provincial conference when you have a strategic region like that [which is not constituted]? That region cannot be the responsibility of the new leadership, it’s our responsibility.”  

He said a team sent to attend to the region’s challenges had managed to set up systems and structures towards rebuilding the organisation, and for the first time in a long time there is steady progress, with branches having meetings normally without disruptions.  

“In the past, there would be many problems going to the regional conference… but this year there are no groupings fighting each other. Our aim is to take the DA out of 50% in 2024, and if we are to do that we must do it in the [Cape Town] metro. 

“We can hold the provincial conference any day from now but our view is that we should nurse the Dullah Omar Region and wait until the end of November [to hold the regional conference]. If by the end of November [the region] has not reached the 70% threshold but has come close to it, I do not see why the provincial conference should not convene.”  

Should the regional and provincial conferences not convene, due to not meeting the required threshold, Mtsweni said this does affect the delegates that will be sent to the party’s national conference in December.  

“The national conference is running a separate process; delegates are selected on proportionality of the number of branches each province has. Branch general meetings select delegates and those delegates are registered directly to the national structure.” DM

 

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