Fire was set up to frame us, say ANC protestors

2011-06-13 00:00

DISGRUNTLED ANC activists who had been staging a sit-in at the party’s Moses Mabhida (Pietermaritzburg) regional office for the past two weeks believe an alleged arson attack on the offices at the weekend is aimed at framing them for the attack and at destroying possible evidence against certain leaders they want removed.

On Saturday evening the office of ANC regional secretary Super Zuma, which is in the ANC offices in Jabu Ndlovu Street, was gutted in a fire thought to have been started by arsonists.

A number of files and documents containing sensitive records are believed to have been destroyed.

When The Witness visited the scene yesterday morning, before it was cordoned off by police, it was clear that the fire had been started from the unoccupied offices of a law firm which are next to the ANC offices.

Destroyed files, documents and computers could be seen strewn around the floor as well as burnt-out cupboards and file cabinets.

Sbongile Mkhize, an ANC stalwart who has been part of the disgruntled group that began occupying the offices 14 days ago to re-inforce their call for the regional executive committee (REC) leaders to resign en masse, said they suspect foul play.

“As disciplined members of the ANC we had been staging a peaceful sit-in in these offices without any incident, and now this fire.

“What aroused more suspicion is the fact that the office that caught fire belonged to the regional treasurer, Alpha Shelembe, who was recently deployed to be the Msunduzi deputy mayor under strong protests from the disgruntled ANC cadres.

“We want an investigation to be instituted to determine whether documents destroyed in the fire could have played a role in what we want to be investigated against the REC members.

“They want us to be portrayed as undisciplined people when we have done our utmost best to maintain discipline during our protest.”

Mkhize said they believe the incident was also meant to steal the limelight from the meeting between the disgruntled cadres from the region and ANC NEC member Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who heads the national task team established by the ANC headquarters to investigate alleged irregularities that occurred during the nomination of ANC election candidates in the region.

Mkhize said the meeting between them and Dlamini-Zuma was scheduled for 9 am today.

The alleged attack on the ANC offices is the second in less than eight months. A fire in November last year left the upper level of the building totally destroyed and a number of ANC offices had to be relocated.

It is still under reconstruction and investigations on the cause of the incident are still ongoing.

REC secretary Super Zuma, who was one of the first ANC regional leaders to visit the offices yesterday morning, confirmed that the destroyed office previously belonged to Shelembe, but said he had been using it after his office was destroyed in the first fire.

ANC provincial spokesperson Makhosi Khoza reportedly said the party is going to open a case at the police station in connection with the incident “as we believe that the reason behind this malicious, criminal act is arson”.

“The perpetrators of this dastardly deed should by now be fully aware that the ANC will tirelessly pursue this matter through all available legal avenues and that they will be brought to book and face the harshest sanction possible,” said Khoza.

One of the protesters, Siyabonga Mthembu, said that at about 10.45 pm on Saturday they were told by some women members of their group that there was smoke coming from one of the offices.

“After detecting where the fire was coming from, we asked everyone to evacuate the offices and we tried to douse the fire and called the fire brigade people.

The fire brigade “came within a short while and forced their way inside the offices to put out the fire, he added.

“The girls said they heard some footsteps from the top floor when they went to the toilets,” Mthembu said.

Police spokesperson Joey Jeevan confirmed the incident and said that while no case has been opened, police have opened an intensive investigation into the incident.

Jeevan said an arson forensic team has been brought into the crime scene from Pretoria to start an investigation.

A police source who is not authorised to speak to the media said last night a team of about 50 police from various police units around the province — led by a lieutenant-colonel and a captain — were deployed around the ANC offices last night and the building has been put under 24-hour guard.

Jeevan confirmed that the building has been placed under a strong police presence but could not confirm that as many as 50 police had been deployed.

ANC provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala said they do not suspect that the disgruntled ANC cadres were behind the attack and said only the police investigation will determine who the culprits are.

Zikalala said they treated the grievances of the disgruntled cadres as an internal matter “and we will continue to engage them until everything is resolved”.

Last night there were fears that police were planning to forcefully evict the protesters from the building as they had previously done before last month’s elections.

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