Unruly delegates attending the ANC’s fiercely contested provincial conference in Mpumalanga this weekend will be subjected to breathalyser tests and possible arrest if there is any hint of drunkenness.
This threat forms part of tight security arrangements after police were called in to combat violence at three recent branch elections in the province. Ten ANC activists were hospitalised in the incidents, which included a running battle between delegates armed with knives, clubs and pistols that left nine people seriously injured at a Chrissiesmeer branch meeting in June. A regional ANC organiser was pushed off a third-floor balcony in a second incident last month, while a high-profile mayor demonstrated her karate skills in the third incident.
Police have arrested and charged 13 senior ANC figures with public violence, assault and attempted murder, while the ANC itself has threatened to expel anyone convicted of violence in the incidents. ”We’ve asked for a heavy police presence and banned alcohol and placards completely, as well as being very strict with registration of delegates,” said ANC provincial spokesman Paul Mbenyane.
Delegates are required to register a full 24 hours before the conference starts on Friday, with the registration venue 6km away from the conference to prevent ”gatecrashers” or intimidation of delegates by unregistered lobbyists. ”The election of our leadership is a sober affair and everyone must therefore be sober. If we suspect that anyone has being partying or drinking before the deliberations, we will resort to breathalysers if necessary,” Mbenyane said.
In the lobbying for the provincial ANC chair, deputy provincial ANC chairperson and national executive committee David ”Hurricane” Mabuza has deliberately emulated Jacob Zuma’s national campaign, using support clubs, placard campaigns and the release of a CD of support songs. The often inaudible and largely off-key songs sound as if they were recorded in a backyard studio.
The street-fighting style appears to have influenced some of his grass-roots supporters, with police confirming that most of those arrested for the violence at branch meetings appeared to be Mabuza campaigners. Mabuza was consistently unavailable for comment this week but has publicly condemned the violence.
He has also leveraged his party portfolios and provincial cabinet post as agriculture minister to secure the support of the provincial ANC Youth League, the South African National Civics Organisation (Sanco) and a strong faction within the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association.
Both Sanco and the MK veterans played the regional card this week, describing Mabuza’s only real competitor as a ”foreigner” from Gauteng.
They insist former Mpumalanga finance minister Lassy Chiwayo will supplant local government and business leaders with technocrats from Gauteng and other metropolitan provinces.
”Already our province is controlled by government directors who all come from Gauteng. All the big 2010 contracts are given to Gauteng companies and even [Chiwayo’s] personal car has GP plates,” said Sanco provincial treasurer Raymond Makamo.”[Mabuza] is rooted in Mpumalanga and as our bible tells us: the wise man came from the east.”
Chiwayo vehemently dismissed this and claims by Sanco and the MK veterans that he is a closet Thabo Mbeki supporter. ”If I was a Thabo man, then why was my name only on JZ’s list at Polokwane — while [Mabuza’s] was on lists for both Thabo and JZ? Also, how can it be that I was also a key supporter of Mpumalanga’s fundraiser for JZ?” asked Chiwayo on Wednesday. Chiwayo said he has had unbroken residence in Nelspruit since 1992 where he is executive mayor.
”The party in the province is wounded,” he said. ”It needs strong, truthful and unified leadership that is incorruptible. I have served in provincial cabinet, in Parliament and other senior party positions without any skeletons in my closet. Can my critics say the same?”
Chiwayo refuses to take a salary as Nelspruit mayor, donating the R800 000 yearly sum to charity. He is also a philanthropist who has sequestered all his business interests — including a stake in Gautrain — in a blind trust administered by independent trustees. ”We need to re-establish benchmarks and cut out the rot. Mpumalanga cannot afford to be a laughing stock anymore,” Chiwayo said.
About 1 000 delegates will be at the conference at Nelspruit’s showgrounds between Friday and Sunday. — African Eye News Service\