A tiny party throws the ANC a bone during post-election coalition bartering

Kgalema Motlanthe (m) and Thabo Mbeki failed to pitch in Matatiele, and sparked the birth of the African Independent Congress. (Troy Enekvist, M&G)

Kgalema Motlanthe (m) and Thabo Mbeki failed to pitch in Matatiele, and sparked the birth of the African Independent Congress. (Troy Enekvist, M&G)

The African Independent Congress (AIC) was the ANC’s saviour in coalition talks this week in Rustenburg, North West and Ekurhuleni, Gauteng.

The AIC’s bargaining chip was Matatiele in the western foothills of the Drakensberg near the Lesotho border. In 2005 the area was moved from KwaZulu-Natal and incorporated into the Eastern Cape, much to residents’ dissatisfaction.

In 2006 the Constitutional Court found that changes to the KwaZulu-Natal boundaries were invalid. In a 2009 referendum a range of interest groups and residents voted against the demarcation move to incorporate it into Eastern Cape.

The matter remained unresolved until the 2016 local government elections provided the opportunity for a trade-off.

The AIC holds four crucial seats in the Ekurhuleni metro council and yesterday used it to elect the ANC’s Mzwandile Masina as mayor.

In Rustenburg, the single seat held by the AIC helped the ANC to secure a narrow victory for its mayoral candidate, Mpho Khunou.

On Monday night the tiny party backed the ANC in its quest to have Parks Tau re-elected as Johannesburg’s mayor. The bid was unsuccessful and the Democratic Alliance’s Herman Mashaba was voted in.

The AIC presented the Matatiele issue as a precondition to offering their support in hung councils when the AIC’s president, Mandla Galo, and ANC secretary general, Gwede Mantashe, met at St George’s Hotel in Centurion two weeks ago.

“They finally agreed to our demand and we will now begin the process of getting Matatiele back to redefine provincial borders,” Galo told the Mail & Guardian on Tuesday.

At the time of the referendum the demand to return the area to KwaZulu-Natal was described by civic groups as a “suppressed legitimate demand which was a long time coming”.

In 2005, the ANC used its two-thirds majority in the National Assembly to change the provincial boundaries of seven provinces, including the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Even though the governing party does not have the required two-third majority in Parliament, the deal with the AIC is likely to go through because there has been little opposition from other parties to this deal.

Senior political party sources close to the talks told the M&G that the ANC agreed to instruct Co-operative Governance Minister Des van Rooyen to draft an amendment Bill to kick-start the process. Once done, the Bill would be tabled in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal legislatures where it is likely to be passed because the ANC still has control there.

The Bill will then go to a vote before the National Assembly where the ANC currently holds 249 seats and the AIC three seats.

Mantashe said this is nothing more than due process. “That is how provincial boundaries are changed. The affected provinces must agree and the National Assembly must also approve,” he said.

The AIC warned that the slightest hint of plans to withdraw from this commitment would spell disaster for ANC-run councils that depend on its support.

“Mantashe told us that immediately after all councils are constituted this week he will begin that process. But if they ditch us, we will withdraw our support in Rustenburg and Ekurhuleni because they need us,” Galo said.

There’s more to the relationship between the AIC and ANC. The small party is accused of stealing the governing party’s emblem.

Galo said “the ancestors guided me” towards the ANC look-a-like logo, which was presented among a “range of other options at the offices of our designer in 2006”.

The artist, Lucky Malusi, has been working in the graphic design industry in Matatiele for almost 14 years. His version of events points towards a concerted effort to mimic the governing party’s emblem.

This week Malusi told the M&G that Galo approached him with non-negotiable elements to be included in the design.

“The suggestion of colours was from Mandla. I came up with the style but maintained what he’s actually interested in. Like the shield, the knobkerries [behind it], that was in his description,” Malusi said.

Malusi said he expressed his reservations about the colour similarity between the AIC and ANC logos.

“When I saw it, we spoke around the issue of colours. We discussed that and I said it’s very close to ANC colours. At the end of the day, the decider is the client; he wanted that particular look,” he said.

As final vote tallies were counted at the Electoral Commission results centre in Tshwane shortly after the August 3 elections, Mantashe again raised concerns about the AIC’s logo, saying there was a possibility that “voters may have been confused”.

Galo has dismissed claims that his party received votes from confused ANC supporters. Malusi, too, does not agree with Mantashe’s criticism and shifted the blame to the ANC.

“If you have educated your voters in terms of the picture and your identity, it shouldn’t be a problem. The shape is quite different. The ANC shield and spear, the hands holding the spear, it’s quite distinct,” he said. “The AIC logo is almost rectangular. It’s just that, maybe, but whenever you lose something, there’s something else you’re going to cry about.”

Questions about the similarity to the ANC logo and whether Galo purposefully copied it may be found in the origin of the AIC, which was founded in 2005.

This is when Galo, then working for the Poverty Alleviation Network, received a smuggled letter from the ANC’s national working committee to its Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal structures, informing them about the boundary shifts that would affect the Matatiele area.

The letter was dated August 8 2005 and found its way to Galo’s offices at the end of that month. Galo said locals were shocked because they said they had not been consulted about the move.

The PAN organised four mass marches against the proposal that same year.

Galo said they invited ANC president Thabo Mbeki and secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe to explain the national working committee’s decision at the fourth march on December 12 2005. When the two leaders failed to pitch, eight of the civic organisation leaders met at the Matatiele council chambers at 2pm that day and decided to form a political party out of “anger and spite”.

“They didn’t come. That is when the idea of establishing a political movement by the name of AIC came around. We were furious,” Galo told the M&G on Tuesday.

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