ANC can’t explain Mbeki’s absence from KZN Mandela sendoff

2013-12-14 09:10

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The ANC was unable to fully explain why former president Thabo Mbeki did not speak at the provincial sendoff for former president Nelson Mandela in Durban, as planned.

Thousands of people packed into the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban yesterday afternoon when the event, scheduled to begin at 10am, eventually started.

If the plan was to pack 80 000 people into the overflow fields around the stadium in a show of strength after President Jacob Zuma’s booing at the national memorial service in Joburg on Tuesday, it flopped.

The facility was around half-full by the time the event ended – more than four hours late. The practice fields, complete with loudspeakers and portable toilets, were still deserted by that time.

Earlier in the week, KwaZulu-Natal Premier and ANC provincial chairperson Senzo Mchunu said Zuma’s home province wanted to give Mandela the “mother of all sendoffs”.

People were bused in from the townships around the city but poor organisation – particularly the security setup – meant a far smaller crowd than the province had bragged of drawing.

Buses carrying rally-goers were stopped several blocks from the stadium and marshals were unclear about how to direct people to the stadium.

As a result, participants were forced to wait for long periods with many heading off to the nearby beaches while they waited for the bottlenecks to clear.

Former president Thabo Mbeki, who was cheered by the same Joburg crowd that heckled his successor, did not attend the Durban event as main speaker, as scheduled.

Instead, ANC national chairperson Baleka Mbete addressed the crowd. She was accompanied by national executive committee members S’bu Ndebele and Blade Nzimande. Communicators from the premier’s office, which hosted the event, were unaware that Mbeki – who did not attend – was meant to speak.

ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza confirmed Mbeki was meant to address the KZN event but was unable to explain why he was not in attendance. “It looks like his deployment may have changed,” he said.

Mbeki’s spokesperson, Mukoni Ratshitanga, referred queries to Khoza.

The day’s events consisted of messages of support from the ANC, its allies and opposition parties, interspersed with mainly gospel acts. Participants perked up every time one of the speakers would lead them in a struggle song and sang and danced along with the more spiritual renderings.

Some of the opposition speakers were heckled briefly, with impatient ANC supporters making the football hand signal to have them “substituted”.

Mchunu told the audience the province had organised the event to make sure people from KwaZulu-Natal had a chance to say goodbye to Mandela, who had a close affinity with it.

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