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Suspensions, counter-suspensions and the bizarre battle for leadership threaten to rend Icosa

Suspensions, counter-suspensions and the bizarre battle for leadership threaten to rend Icosa
From left: Icosa’s Jeffrey Donson. (Photo: Facebook) | An Icosa sign in Witzenberg, Western Cape. (Photo: Brenton Geach) | Icosa’s Vlancio Donson (Photo: Supplied)

A battle for control amid suspensions and counter-suspensions threatens to tear apart the Independent Civic Organisation of South Africa, a small party in the Western Cape.

Ahead of next year’s elections, one of the smaller regional parties — the Independent Civic Organisation of South Africa (Icosa) — is feeling the pressure after it suspended its president, Jeffrey Donson, the mayor of Kannaland municipality in the Western Cape and a convicted rapist, and his son Vlancio Donson, the deputy mayor of Oudtshoorn.

In a counter-attack, another group suspended Dawid Kamfer — the Western Cape leader who sent the suspension letters to Donson and his son — and the party’s deputy Western Cape leader, Benjamin Marsala.

Despite their suspensions, the Donsons retained their mayor and deputy mayor positions.

Following the suspensions and counter-suspensions there is confusion about the status of all four Icosa leaders.

Donson Snr’s suspension letter says his 2004 conviction for raping a 15-year-old girl is a hindrance to the party’s growth and performance in next year’s elections.

Kamfer told Daily Maverick this week that new members who were canvassing for votes, complained to him, “How can we go and canvass if there is a cloud over our leader’s head? We want to sell the party, but this thing keeps being thrown in our faces.” 

In the 2019 general election, the party — based in the Western Cape — received 12,386 votes, just over 2,000 fewer than the 14,472 votes it garnered in the 2014 elections.

Both Donsons suspended

Icosa’s leadership turmoil started on Thursday, 5 October, when Kamfer confirmed that suspension letters had been sent to the Donsons. 

Kannaland, the municipality of which Donson Snr is mayor, comprises the towns of Ladismith, Zoar and Calitzdorp. It has run up a large debt to Eskom and its service delivery problems were raised in Parliament in November 2022. 

According to their suspension letters, the Donsons were charged with  “sowing discord within Icosa … which is not in alignment with the constitution of Icosa and that such actions do not positively add value to the advancement and growth of the party”.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Suspended – Mayor Jeffrey Donson and son accused of ‘sowing discord’ within Icosa

The party’s provincial structure enforced the suspensions at a meeting on Saturday, 7 October in the town of Riviersonderend, and elected Kamfer as interim party leader. He is Icosa’s Western Cape leader and an opposition councillor in the DA-led Mossel Bay Municipality. Marsala was elected as interim provincial leader.

“No favours for positions, no corruption, no intimidation or threats, equipping leaders to become financially independent and aid in employment creation, and getting rid of individuals who belittle women in Icosa,” read a statement issued in Kamfer’s name.  

“Anything else posted on Facebook is false, misleading, and an attempt to divert attention from the fact that Mr Donson and his son are still in suspension… Any other appointments made outside the scope of the newly elected interim leaders are in breach of Icosa’s constitution and will be regarded as serious,” the statement continued. 

Kamfer and Marsala suspended 

However, Kamfer and Marsala have since been suspended by another faction of the party. According to a statement, members of the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) met last week and found the suspension of both Donsons to be “unlawful”. They said Jeffrey Donson remained the president of Icosa and Vlancio Donson remained a member of the NEC.

The meeting took place in Oudtshoorn, where Icosa is part of a coalition government in the municipality alongside the Democratic Alliance and the Freedom Front Plus. 

The NEC said that because of Kamfer’s “conduct”, it held an urgent motion of no confidence in Kamfer and Marsala, which was passed. They were removed from their positions as provincial leader and deputy provincial leader, respectively.

“The statement made by Marsala that Mr Kamfer was elected as the interim President of Icosa and himself as the interim Provincial Chairperson at a meeting held in Riviersonderend on the 7 of October 2023, is intended to cause division and is not recognised by the NEC,” the statement read. 

Bianca Booysen and Gert Uithaler, respectively, were elected to the positions that Kamfer and Marsala held.

The NEC said the matter was being escalated for further action. A resolution was passed to hold the party’s national congress on 8 and 9 December, where new leadership will be elected. “Until then, Jeffrey Donson remains the President of Icosa,” the statement read.

More allegations

Vlancio Donson on Monday confirmed Kamfer’s suspension. He told Daily Maverick that while he had received a suspension letter from Kamfer, the reasons given for his suspension were “vague”. 

Donson said, “Mr Kamfer could not suspend me as he is a provincial leader while I am a national leader… He can only suspend within a province.

“I’m not suspended, the president is not suspended. Our constitution says the NEC is the highest decision-making body. They said we’re not suspended.”  

He said that in the case of a party’s leader being suspended, the deputy was mandated to act as party president, but “Mr Kamfer elected himself as leader… It shows you this guy always had ambition.”

Donson questioned why Kamfer would bring up the 2004 rape case when he had defended Donson Snr several times, including in 2021, when the media highlighted the conviction after he was re-elected as Kannaland mayor.

“He could have said in 2011, I don’t want to stand with a rapist,” said Donson about that year’s municipal polls, where Kamfer stood alongside his father in the election campaign. 

Donson pointed to the claims in the original suspension letter about the party’s lack of growth due to his father’s rape conviction. 

“In 2006, Mossel Bay had three [Icosa] councillors. Kannaland had two [Icosa] councillors. Now Kannaland has three and Mossel Bay has one. So for the time period, who grew and who failed?” he said.

Icosa has a total of eight councillors: three in Kannaland, Kamfer in Mossel Bay, Donson Jnr and another councillor in Oudtshoorn, one councillor in Witzenberg and another councillor in Drakenstein.

“Ironically enough, when we wanted to host a provincial conference, nobody wanted to vote for Kamfer. The president convinced them to vote for Kamfer. They didn’t want Kamfer,” Donson said.

He said he felt “sorry” for Kamfer who has had health issues recently. “I’m scared this thing will affect his health,” he told Daily Maverick.

Kamfer fires back 

On Tuesday, in response, Kamfer told Daily Maverick: “Donson is not a national leader of Icosa because his term expired a year ago as NEC and as leadership.”

Kamfer claimed the people who were at the meeting to suspend him were appointed by the Donsons. When Daily Maverick asked Kamfer about Vlancio Donson’s claims of inaction on Jeffrey Donson’s rape conviction, he said: “Remember, we all talk of forgiveness and to see if things come right, and you give people a chance.” 

Kamfer said he had followed the “will of the people” by issuing the two suspensions, as “the people” had been raising the issue of Donson’s rape conviction.

“So it isn’t me. I have to do what the people say. It’s not Dawid Kamfer fighting against Donson or telling Donson to leave, it’s the people saying so. It’s people saying they are running the party like a mafia at the moment, with just the two of them,” he said of the Donson duo.

“It’s not a nice story for me, because for 15 years, I protected him. I protected him in the sense that I thought this thing would blow away and he had a fair chance, but this thing is not going away at this point. We give out thousands and millions every election and then we end up nowhere,” he said.

Kamfer claimed that while party members from across the Western Cape came to Riviersonderend for the provincial meeting, some members were threatened into not attending. While he did not provide proof of these allegations, he said people were threatened with the loss of their jobs, and their transportation to the event was cancelled.

“Those people sent me messages to say ‘We would have loved to be there, but we are cut off and threatened to not come,” he said.  

DA Oudtshoorn caucus chair Chris McPherson on Tuesday told Daily Maverick the party would not interfere in the internal politics of coalition partners. 

“The national leader and president of Icosa, Mr Donson Snr, and his son, Valencio Donson, are NEC members and only the president can appoint councillors. The DA knew that there was no reason to take any actions as the so-called dismissals of the two leaders were premature and that counter steps would ensue.”

He referred Daily Maverick to the statement by Icosa confirming that the suspension of both Donsons was unlawful and suspending Kamfer and Marsala. DM


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