ANC representatives visiting Bekkersdal, west of Johannesburg, were protected by their VIP security because they were pelted with stones, an official said on Friday.
"At some point, a particular crowd got aggressive and started closing in on the public representatives [on Thursday]," ANC Gauteng caucus spokesperson Mbangwa Xaba told the South African Press Association (Sapa). "This should be condemned … Public representatives were barred from doing their work and still did a walkabout but were pelted with stones."
Thabang Wesi, leader of the Concerned Residents of Bekkersdal, told Sapa that residents saw ANC bodyguards with weapons in the township He said the bodyguards shot at unarmed people, mainly school pupils.
"Residents then managed to retaliate. The situation was very tense," he said at the time. "If people want to vote, let them go vote but [they] must vote out the ruling party. We can see the ANC is arrogant and use force to coerce us into voting for them."
The Star on Friday reported that ANC bodyguards fired live ammunition at residents after schooling was disrupted at around 11am.
Not bodyguards, but police VIP protection
The party's Gauteng representatives were in Bekkersdal on Thursday for door-to-door campaigning. Three police nyalas and heavily armed police patrolled the area and fired rubber bullets at residents and school pupils, it reported. Xaba said the ANC did not have bodyguards but VIP protection, which was provided by the South African Police Service.
"We commend the police for ensuring no loss of life and no injuries. Under extreme provocation there was no loss of life and for that we are very grateful," he said.
Gauteng police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said he could not comment on the VIP protection unit's actions as it did not fall under his jurisdiction. "We can't comment on their actions, they fall under the national office, they don't fall under provincial. We can only comment on our members."
But Dlamini confirmed that rubber bullets were fired by police because their vehicles were stoned. Six people were arrested for public violence. Dlamini referred other enquiries to national police spokesperson Vishnu Naidoo, who said he would get feedback before commenting.
ANC Gauteng chief whip Brian Hlongwa said in a statement on Thursday their planned meeting with the community was disrupted by youth.
School disruptions 'unacceptable'
There could never be a concept of no-go areas in a democratic society, he said.
"It is unacceptable that schooling should be disrupted as it was done today and legitimate public representatives being barred from doing their work," said Hlongwa.
"Problems in Bekkersdal must be resolved urgently with all stakeholders playing their role otherwise anarchy will derail democratic progress in that township."
He said the ruling party's understanding was that there were two major problems raised by the community.
"In this regard, we believe the Gauteng government together with the Greater Westonaria Concerned Residents Association have agreed on how to resolve it with programmes involving relevant state investigative institutions," said Hlongwa.
"So, clearly, there are commitments and [a] programme to deal with the challenges at least from the part of government, but I think as caucus we should ensure that these processes are accelerated."
ANC 'forced themselves' in Bekkersdal
This would mean that Bekkersdal residents must be engaged with on a continued basis and also ensure the leadership of the aggrieved also take responsibility.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) said the ANC pushed itself into the community. In October last year, Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane and other ANC members went to Bekkersdal to hand over RDP houses to the community and were threatened by residents there.
"Nomvula Mokonyane and her crew came to hand over some RDP house and seeing that the community was not interested and rejected her, they then forced themselves into Bekkersdal to campaign," said EFF co-ordinator Omphile Maotwe in a statement.
"We are disturbed to learn that the police accused these young school children of throwing stones at unmarked state cars, and fired rubber bullets to disperse them."
'The situation was very tense'
But Wesi said on Thursday that residents were surprised when they saw bodyguards with weapons in the township.
He said the guards shot at unarmed people, mainly school pupils.
Wesi said they would not stop anyone from voting in the upcoming elections on May 7. He however appealed to residents to vote wisely.
"If people want to vote, let them go vote but [they] must vote out the ruling party. We can see the ANC is arrogant and use force to coerce us into voting for them," he said.
Wesi questioned the logic behind the ANC's move to visit the township without consulting them first. He said other parties had visited the area with no disruptions and conflicts.
Maotwe said Mokonyane must accept that the community of Bekkersdal rejects her and her leadership.
"These are the very same people she told that she does not want their dirty votes."