The battle to replace John Block

2017-03-05 06:01
CHALLENGER Zamani Saul

CHALLENGER Zamani Saul

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The last ANC province that was a leading example of unity and stability, the Northern Cape, is crumbling due to a divisive leadership contest.

For years, under ANC boss John Block, the province was safe from the decay that crippled both the party and government across the country.

But with Block now off the radar following a criminal conviction in 2015, his friends have turned into enemies in the push to assume the leadership reins.

Since preparations for the provincial conference on Wednesday started, police have had their hands full confiscating pangas, unlicensed firearms and similar deadly weapons from ANC members attending branch meetings.

Some party leaders, including at regional level, have bodyguards.

Last month, the provincial ANC lekgotla was disrupted by disgruntled members, leaving the upcoming provincial government lekgotla and state of the province address in limbo.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe held a marathon meeting with provincial leaders at Frances Baard District Municipality chambers in Kimberley recently.

Outside the chambers, a group of ANC members staged a protest as they waited to get a chance to fast-track their grievances to the national leadership. An opposing group gathered to defend its leaders.

Former combatants of the ANC’s Umkhonto weSizwe military wing helped police keep a close watch on the developments.

One day was not enough for the meeting to be concluded, but, before it ended, speculation was rife that some regions were disbanded and that the provincial conference would be postponed, sending the provincial ANC into damage-control mode.

Infighting

City Press heard that Block had appointed deputy provincial secretary Alvin Botes as secretary.

Botes’ campaign, dubbed “Sylvin”, includes Northern Cape Premier Sylvia Lucas as chair – which would be a first for any ANC province.

However, supporters of provincial secretary Zamani Saul say it is their man’s turn to take over. They chanted “Zamdesh”, which alludes to having Saul as chairperson and Deshi Ngxanga as secretary.

Saul has already given subtle hints that he will back Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to succeed President Jacob Zuma at the ANC national conference later this year.

Botes’ backers “do not have a problem with Ramaphosa”, said a lobbyist, but would rather give ANC branch members space to determine the province’s position without undue influence from leaders.

Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza, also an aspirant ANC top-six leader, enjoys some level of sympathy in the province, particularly among leaders in the biggest of the five regions, Frances Baard.

Botes is a product of the ANC Youth League and has been credited with playing a key role in establishing structures such as the National Youth Development Agency in the Northern Cape – which prompted Block to bring him under his wing.

Saul apparently first met Block at university. When Saul first came to the province years ago, City Press heard, he had been instructed by the ANC to meet Block, who was then an undercover activist working as a petrol attendant.

Ali Diteme, an ANC spokesperson for the Frances Baard district, said that, out of the region’s 55 branches, only 48 had passed the audit.

“However, we have picked up that, in some of our branches, there is a general feeling that memberships in good standing have been excluded from the audit processes,” Diteme said.

He said a regional executive committee meeting was convened to deal with the disputes, but the structure could not reach a consensus because 10 out of the 24 members aligned with Saul staged a walkout, including the deputy chairperson, the secretary, the deputy secretary and the treasurer.

“The major problem with the walkout is that it created space for parallel branch general meetings.

"And these created a serious crisis in the region, where we started to have infighting, during which some members were pepper sprayed, and women were abused and so forth,” he said.

“As we speak, the region is in a state of paralysis and facing a serious crisis. Currently, we are sitting with a dispute affecting 28 branches as a result of allegations of membership manipulation and rigging of branch general meetings.”

Another regional leader said the crisis was “well orchestrated”.

He said the meeting was expected to pronounce on the preferred leadership and those who realised they were losing had staged a walkout.

“For the first time, we saw gangsters and former convicts calling themselves security for certain regional leaders. They ... decide who attends meetings. That manipulation and rigging is protected by [Saul], who operates with four regional secretaries on his side.”

Intimidation and fear

In the Pixley Ka Seme region in De Aar, City Press got through to spokesperson Andrew Samson, however, regional secretary Khathazile Tolong later told the paper that Samson was not even a member of the ANC regional executive.

Tolong said the decision by 38 of the 43 branches in good standing was to support Saul.

However, Samson said the region did not make a decision to support Saul. He said subregional leaders were given the instruction to support Saul by the regional secretary in August.

“We are being told that this is the line of march, but we believe we should be allowed to have a succession debate where ordinary ANC members are allowed to express their views,” he said.

He said members were being intimidated so that they would support Saul, and some, including mayors, feared losing their jobs if they did not.

ANC spokesperson in the John Taolo Gaetsewe region, Kamogelo Semamai, said branch general meetings “are being stolen”.

“This other lobby group that claims to have the upper hand in administration is busy manipulating meetings,” said Semamai.

“They have a permanent rented crowd of thugs who go to meetings with weapons and disrupt processes.”

However, deputy chairperson of the region and mayor of Ga-Segonyana Local Municipality, Neo Masegela, said those who were accusing Saul of wrongdoing were cut from the same cloth as those who believed he was doing good.

“We respect the provincial secretary and he has been nominated by ANC members in the province to lead,” said Masegela.

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Read more on:    anc  |  john block  |  gwede mantashe  |  politics

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