ANC ward wars: Strife begins at 40

Named after struggle icon Dorothy Zihlangu, the ANC's ward 40 branch in Gugulethu is one of the party's biggest in Western Cape, with 1 475 members, and is full of character.

It's a melting pot that encompasses some of the poorest areas in Cape Town, informal settlements such as Barcelona and Europe. It is also home to some of the ANC's top dogs, such as former provincial chairperson Mcebisi Skwatsha, National Assembly deputy speaker Nomaindia Mfeketo and the party's chief whip of the National Council of Provinces, Nosipho Ntwanambi.

Members joke that the branch is historically known as the "Nkandla of the Cape".

When Skwatsha was still in charge of the provincial ANC and at the height of his struggles with former Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool, his caucus met there.

It was 100% Skwatsha and 100% Zuma in the build-up to the party's 2007 Polokwane conference. But somewhere between the Polokwane and Mangaung ANC conferences, the branch divided.

A number of ANC members claim that tensions grew over the process of nominating a ward councillor in 2011, which was later found to be flawed and had to be redone.

It was one of more than 400 ANC branches around the country that were investigated for irregularities following a highly contested councillor nomination process before the 2011 local government elections.

The chairperson of the African Union, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, led a task team to investigate more than 4 000 complaints and ward 40 was one of two in the Cape where Dlamini-Zuma's team found that the processes were flawed and recommended that the party begin them afresh.

It was never corrected and many still believe this will continue to create problems in the branch.

In November last year, the branch tried but failed to hold a general meeting three times before the party's national conference in Mangaung.

Last Saturday, it was supposed to meet so that it could elect 19 delegates who would represent it at the upcoming provincial list conference – where names of the people who will represent the party in Parliament and at the provincial legislature were to be nominated.

That was not to be.

A bakkie-load of panga- and knife-wielding suspects assaulted ANC members who were waiting outside the venue for the meeting to start. Three people ended up in hospital.

Western Cape police confirmed the incident, saying that it occurred at about 10.35pm on Saturday at the Barcelona informal settlement's Baptist Church.

Colonel Tembinkosi Kinana said police were called in after a complaint was received that unknown suspects allegedly assaulted people outside the church hall.

ANC members, speaking on the condition of anonymity, have come up with several conspiracy theories about what was behind the attack.

Some say it is "artificial divisions" between the shack-dwelling members from Barcelona and Europe and members who live in the formal houses in Gugulethu. Others claim that some of the "poo protesters" who were suspended from the party last month are on a mission to destabilise the ANC, and others say it's a fight between a group that supports Skwatsha and a group that supports the current provincial leadership. 

The so-called poo protesters have been responsible for a number of faeces-dumping incidents in the Cape Town area to protest against poor sanitation in the informal settlement.

A former provincial executive member, who supports Skwatsha, told the Mail & Guardian that the leadership of the branch was "stolen" during the 2011 nomination and this has heightened the tension.

He said the people who "stole" the branch then were behind Saturday's attack as they realised that they didn't have the numbers to influence the meeting this time round.

Another source, who is an ANC Youth League member, claimed that the youth league was in the majority in the branch and had no reason to disrupt the meeting. He blamed the Skwatsha-supporting group for the attack.

The provincial secretary, Songezo Mjongile, said the ANC is investigating the incident. He said a lot of things have been said that needed to be verified, including a possible involvement of ANC leadership in the attack. He denied, though, that the 2011 nomination process was a factor in the tensions. "Overwhelmingly, the councillor has support and was recently elected as branch secretary."

Mjongile said the branch has a history of tensions between its members who live in formal housing and those living in the squatter areas. He described the tensions as "artificial divisions".

He said, historically, the branch leadership came from the formal houses, whereas the majority of the membership was in the informal settlements. Mjongile also accused the poo protesters of having taken a decision to disrupt ANC events.

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