The ANC's ex-soldiers are accused of intimidating Jacob Zuma's opponents at the Mandela lecture this week, writes Michelle Pietersen.
The Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association has been accused of having acted unlawfully through its show of force during the Nelson Mandela centenary lecture in Limpopo on Tuesday.
Its use of pepper spray during a scuffle between ANC Youth League members and the MK veterans outside the hall where President Jacob Zuma delivered the lecture has sparked a war of words about who caused the death of an elderly man.
It is claimed that the association is being used by people supporting Zuma for a second term to intimidate his detractors in the run-up to the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung in December.
What was supposed to have been a historical lecture on the political life of Mandela ended in tragedy after Alpheus Moseri, a 68-year-old resident of a nearby village, Matatadibeng, collapsed in the bus on his way home from the event. Locals claim he suffered an asthma attack that had allegedly been sparked by the fumes of the pepper spray that members of the association had used.
But the association has strongly denied culpability. “He is a former member of the MK vets,” said its chairperson, Kebby Maphatsoe. “We can’t confirm that his death was caused by the incident that happened or something else until the health department completes the postmortem.
“It is unfortunate that on such an important day during a lecture of one of the first commanders-in-chief of Umkhonto weSizwe you have such an incident. The anarchist [youth league] should feel ashamed of themselves for undermining Tata Mandela and insulting the president.”
Some ANC members have insisted that the veteran’s organisation did well to restore order and prevent chaos, thus allowing Zuma to continue with his speech. Maphatsoe said: “For them [the youth league]to have started the old man’s death is their fault. We were dealing with the head of state here and we couldn’t take chances.”
Many of the association’s members who were clad in the signature camouflage gear appeared to be too young to be veterans, which has sparked claims that younger people politically aligned to Zuma were infiltrating it for political ends.
Limpopo police spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudizi said it received information that Moseri died in hospital early on Wednesday morning. A postmortem was being conducted to confirm the cause of death, he said. The family could not be reached for comment.
Tuesday was a day of high drama: earlier, before the scuffles, news broke that party veteran Winnie Madikizela-Mandela had written a scathing letter to the ANC, claiming that it was abusing Nelson Mandela for its own agenda and disrespecting the Mandela family. Senior members of the family boycotted the lecture and Zuma continued with it without their blessing.
Later on Tuesday two Limpopo youth league leaders – provincial chairperson Rudzani Ludere and secretary Jacob Lebogo – were assaulted and sprayed with pepper spray by the veterans, and dozens other accredited members of the local ANC branches were removed or prevented from attending the lecture.
Maphatsoe said: “Since the youth league started with the campaign to disrupt these gatherings we took it upon ourselves not to allow it. No one will protect the ANC if we don’t do that. They have taken a posture to undermine the president of the ANC wherever he addresses [events] and we think it’s high time to put it to a stop.
“We have decided to use minimum force. We don’t use teargas because we were disbanded, so we are an association. But we will use minimum force [and] if it comes to a push we will use physical force to remove them from ANC gatherings. They were singing derogatory songs about the president. We must protect the dignity of the leadership of the ANC lead by President Zuma. They can’t continue to insult the president.”