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ANC's top six wade into OR Tambo chaos

Michelle Pietersen, Matuma Letsaolo

The ANC's top six have rejected as unconstitutional the dissolution of the OR Tambo regional conference.

In a setback for the Jacob Zuma camp, the ANC's top six has ordered the resumption of the OR Tambo regional conference. (Duif du Toit, Gallo Images)

This decision by the ANC's top six to order the conference to resume and its results to be released is an indictment on the Eastern Cape's provincial leaders. They stand accused of having been at the centre of the chaotic gathering two weeks ago that came to an abrupt end after members of the provincial executive committee (PEC) decided to dissolve the conference and withhold the results.

The ANC's national leaders, including ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, ruled the OR Tambo regional executive committee must reconvene the conference from August 24 to August 26 with the same adopted credentials; that the electoral commission be instructed to announce the results and conclude its work; and that more national executive committee members be deployed to the region to oversee the conclusion of the conference, said an ANC leader.

The ANC heavyweights' decision was a major boost for those lobbying for President Jacob Zuma to be replaced. Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale have been touted as possible ANC presidential successors.

The results of the conference, which were leaked to the media, show that the anti-Zuma camp in the region had won by a slight margin.

The OR Tambo region is the ANC's second largest after the eThekwini region in KwaZulu-Natal, and constitutes about 70% of the Eastern Cape delegates who will participate in the national conference. 

Last week the OR Tambo regional leadership wrote to ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe and his fellow national leaders to seek intervention. The regional leaders stated in the letter, which the Mail & Guardian has seen, that the members of the PEC had prohibited the electoral commission from announcing the results because the outcome did not suit their political preference. The PEC in the Eastern Cape supports the current ANC leadership.  

The letter also states that the region's leaders complained about alleged interference in delegate credentials and electoral processes by PEC members Mlibo Qoboshiyane and deputy provincial secretary Helen August.

The ANC was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday but the OR Tambo regional chairperson, Thandekile Sabisa, said that although the branch was still awaiting an official response from Luthuli House, they informally had been told that the decision to resume the conference was taken.

"Our view has always been that the results must be announced. That's our standpoint. We expected that [the officials] would announce that the conference must resume and the results be announced. Complaints will follow [after the conference is concluded]. The conference can take any decision after the results are announced," Sabisa told the M&G

'In line with the ANC's traditions'
Eastern Cape ANC Youth League secretary Mzonke Ndabeni welcomed the decision by the ANC leaders saying it was "in line with the ANC's traditions".

"We have been saying that the decision to dissolve the conference and withhold the results was an error of judgment on the side of the ANC in the province. It was unprecedented that certain people who were dissatisfied with the numbers stalled a conference. It has never happened. It must be investigated; we can't have leaders who have the audacity to insult constitutional gatherings of the ANC," he said.

"The credibility of ANC elections must be defended and the integrity of its processes must be protected at all cost and at all levels. We are going to Mangaung in December – just imagine if a similar situation occurs where results are stalled. A vacuum will be created in the leadership of the ANC and the country. This thing [of manipulating internal party elections] has caused civil wars in other African states." 

Ndabeni added people "who are scared of a democratic outcome" should not be allowed to "undermine the processes". 

'Unbecoming manner'
The region's leaders also accused a deputy minister, who was part of the regional credential committee, of having acted in a "unbecoming manner" by, among other things, taking photos at the conference venue with her iPad, giving some individuals who were not accredited delegates tags of voting delegates, and of interfering with the electoral process.

The M&G was told by a provincial ANC source that no decision was taken on whether to take action against the leaders.

Senior leader Mnyamezeli Booi, who was deployed to the region by Luthuli House, told Business Day on Monday the PEC had deliberately undermined the ANC's constitution and that the "unprecedented" flouting of the rules which governed the party and its processes painted the picture of an undemocratic organisation. 

The OR Tambo conference is not the first disputed ANC conference of late, but its outcome has leaders worried about whether this was a taste of things to come in Mangaung where the ANC will gather in December to elect a new leadership. Both the ANC's Mpumalanga and Free State provincial conferences – where leaders aligned to the faction supporting Zuma were elected under a cloud of suspicion of conspiracy – have been disputed, with members in the latter province having approached the courts to intervene in the political standoff.

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