MKMVA to Gwede Mantashe: 'You are not going to use our camouflage like this'

The MKMVA stand guard outside Luthuli House, the ANC's headquarters. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

The MKMVA stand guard outside Luthuli House, the ANC's headquarters. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

All was good and calm and reasonably underwhelming at the #OccupyLuthuliHouse protest until Gwede Mantashe walked by to get the “occupy” protesters’ memorandum of demands. Then, the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) got shouty at the ANC secretary general.

It was a day when violence was expected. The #OccupyLuthuliHouse group had suggested they would occupy the ANC’s headquarters and pro-Zuma ANC members weren’t too happy.
ANC Youth League president Collen Maine had insisted that #DefendLuthuliHouse would be peaceful, but his words were received with some scepticism.

In the end, there was no occupation at Luthuli House and the only violence came when members of the MKMVA tried to prevent ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe from walking over to where the #OccupyLuthuliGroup had convened to receive their memorandum of demands.

A group of MK veterans had formed a human shield around Mantashe, huddling around him as he attempted to get to the other group. A street separated #OccupyLuthuliHouse from #DefendLuthuliHouse, with a line of police officers in riot gear acting as a buffer in the middle of road.

When Mantashe arrived to the #DefendLuthuliHouse protesters standing just in front of the police, the pushing and shoving began, with some MKMVA members calling on the secretary general to go back to Luthuli House and ignore the protesters on the otherside.

“SG, you are not going anywhere,” an MKMVA member shouted. “You are not going to collect something that will affect our country.”

Another veteran adamantly told Mantashe: “You are not going to use our camouflage like this”.

The vets wanted Mantashe to ignore the group instead of choosing to acknowledge them and give them legitimacy. A little earlier, a delegation from #OccupyLuthuliHouse had attempted to negotiate with the MKMVA to allow a few representatives through so they could deliver the memorandum to Luthuli House. The vets had fierecly rejected them and when MKMVA chair Kebby Maphatsoe tried to negotiate on behalf of #OccupyLuthuliHouse, he was firmly shut down.

But Mantashe, with the help of some MKMVA members who guarded him, made it to the protesters, where he received their memorandum. Around Beyers Naude Square, where #OccupyLuthuliHouse had converged, brawls broke out with members of the “occupy” and “defend” groups calling one another “agents”.

As the scuffles ensued, Mantashe made his way out of the square and led the “defenders of Luthuli House” away from the #OccupyLuthuliHouse group so that he could speak with them. In his briefing, Mantashe said the ANC had historically been built on a diversity of ideas and voices, and that must be maintained.

“If the ANC wants a single voice that moves in one direction it will lose what it has had historically. I want you comrades to be tolerant,” Mantashe told pro-Zuma ANC members.

Mantashe also told #DefendLuthuliHouse to not “give any publicity” to #OccupyLuthuliHouse as it would give the group more credibility. Despite the skirmishes that broke out at the square, the MKMVA applauded Mantashe after his speech and carried on singing with #DefendLuthuliHouse protesters after Mantashe left. 

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra’eesa Pather is a general news journalist with the Mail & Guardian’s online team. She cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg and joining the M&G. She's written about memory, race and gender in columns and features, and has dabbled in photography. Read more from Ra'eesa Pather

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