A group of disgruntled ANC members in the Free State have turned to the courts to have the provincial elective conference held in May declared invalid and unconstitutional.
The group is expected to have its matter heard in the high court in Bloemfontein next week, after failed attempts to have discussions with the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) on the matter.
They are accusing the provincial executive committee (PEC) of being illegitimate, because it was elected in contravention of a court order that instructed that branch general meetings be rerun in 14 branches before a new leadership was elected.
The group alleges the branch general meetings were not rerun in the lead-up to the May conference, making the provincial leadership elected there unlawful.
Speaking to the Mail & Guardian this week, Monnapule Ntamo, leader of the group, said going to court was a last resort after multiple attempts to resolve the matter within the ANC had failed.
“We have tried everything and there is nothing that has happened. We are still open for discussion because we don’t want to use the courts to solve party matters,” Ntamo said. “From where we are standing we believe we are right. We have asked for a full bench of the high court to be present. We are of the view that we are right and the other side isn’t, but we need a third opinion.”
The group expressed its disappointment with the NEC for its failure to listen to its concerns, and said it believed legal action could have been avoided had the NEC not ignored them.
The Free State has yet to recover from the factional battles that plagued it in the run-up to the ANC’s national elective conference.
During that time supporters of President Cyril Ramaphosa launched several court bids against supporters of the provincial chairperson, Ace Magashule (now ANC secretary general), who supported Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
The Ramaphosa loyalists accused Magashule’s group of trying to win favour for Dlamini-Zuma in the Free State with dubious means.
The group heading to court comprises Ramaphosa loyalists who believe factional battles are still rife in the province, even after the conclusion of the Nasrec conference.
They accuse the NEC’s deployees, led by Telecommunications Minister Siyabonga Cwele, of incorrectly telling Luthuli House that the Free State’s elective conference had run smoothly to keep a PEC loyal to Magashule in power.
“We’ve observed that the people who were deployed in the Free State are really not pro-CR17 [Ramaphosa]. They are obviously still attached to the current secretary general, so there is no objectivity on their side,” Ntamo said. “The NEC has been misled and we are saying, if action is to be taken, it needs to be against those NEC deployees.”
While those aligned to the Ramaphosa faction fight for their survival in the Free State, party leaders sympathetic to Dlamini-Zuma in the North West are also fighting for their survival.
Three of the North West’s four regions have threatened to take the NEC to court to force it to reverse its decision to disband the North West PEC, which was sympathetic to Dlamimi-Zuma. Former PEC members have also launched a separate court challenge to reverse the NEC decision.
The matter is expected to be heard in court later this month, but the group has said it is still open to resolving the disagreement with the NEC outside the courtroom. They have accused the NEC of executing political plots to purge anyone who did not support Ramaphosa’s ascension to the presidency.
The NEC reached an agreement with Free State party members in June, when it instructed the PEC to bring on board all those who believed they had been sidelined ahead of the provincial conference and to work closely with them.
According to the disgruntled Free State group, the NEC had called on both sides to create a structure made up of 10 people, five from each of the opposing groups, that would discuss issues in the province and work with the PEC.
Ntamo said the exercise proved to be futile, because the PEC was undermining the structure. He said the only way for an exercise of that nature to work would be if the NEC disbanded the PEC and then formed a collaborative group that could discuss matters further.
“Our proposal [to the NEC] was that [it] disbands this PEC, so we can discuss [things further]. Because, currently the PEC wants to say ‘that [the group of 10] is a subcommittee, we are the real PEC, so you can’t have equal power as us’,’” he said.
Ntamo added that the group is disappointed by the NEC’s lack of interest in the matter, “because we thought the little they could have done is to come to the Free State, book a big hall, call all of us and say ‘tell us the story’ instead of ignoring us. The issue is that they are ignoring [us] as if we are not members of the ANC.”
The ANC’s Free State office was not available to comment by the time of publication.