The ANC's Alex la Guma branch in Cape Town is not your average ANC branch: it is young and old and black and white.
The branch is in ward 77 of the Cape Town metropole and covers the central business district. It draws its membership from the city centre, District Six and Zonnebloem, as well as the affluent suburbs of Gardens, Oranjezicht and Vredehoek.
It was no surprise then that, on the afternoon of October 16, members started trickling in wearing sharp suits and driving German sedans for the annual branch meeting to nominate delegates for, and discuss policy issues ahead of, the ANC's Mangaung conference.
Held at St Paul's Anglican Church in Buitengracht Street, the meeting was scheduled to start at 6pm with an address by Fikile Mbalula, the sports minister and ANC head of campaigns. This was just two days after a weekend newspaper reported that Mbalula had abandoned the ANC Youth League's campaign to oppose a second term for President Jacob Zuma, hence the media was also invited.
A few minutes before Mbalula's late arrival, at 7.30pm, large groups of people arrived in minibus taxis. Suddenly, the church hall was packed with about 300 people, the majority of them students from the nearby Cape Peninsula University of Technology. There was a sprinkle of middle-aged white people and a group of children who could not have been older than 15.
In good standing
The hall erupted into song as Mbalula arrived, singing about former ANC president Oliver Tambo. Many people in the crowd made the change sign (similar to that used by coaches when they want to substitute a player on the field), indicating they had had enough of President Jacob Zuma at the helm of the party.
Mbalula arrived with the ANC's Western Cape secretary, Songezo Mjongile.
While introducing Mbalula, branch secretary Bheki Hadebe excitedly revealed that it was the first time that the branch was "in good standing" and it would be the first time it went to any national gathering of the ANC. "I've been a member for 10 years here. Through the hard work of the branch executive committee we are here to craft the future not only of the ANC, but of the country," he said.
Hadebe added that 60% of the branch's members were students.
Both Mjongile and Mbalula gave fiery speeches about what ANC members had to consider in electing leaders in Mangaung. Mbalula spoke for about an hour and about half the people in the room left when he finished his speech. A question-and-answer session followed.
With the media present, the discussion did not go as far as deciding on a Mangaung position. The branch will decide on its preferred national leaders on November 1.