Church won't host Cope in a hurry
Pretoria - Pastor Eugene Pienaar has seen a lot in his career as church minister but this week's Cope elective conference was one of the more memorable experiences.
"As a minister I have experienced a lot. For me, this has been one of the highlights," Pienaar told a Sapa journalist, looking out over the auditorium of his Pretoria church, where dozens of broken chairs lay piled up.
"I don't think there was a chair in my auditorium that wasn't thrown at least three or four times," he sighed.
The auditorium was the venue for the Congress of the People's 2010 elective conference, which turned violent between supporters of its two leaders, Mosiuoa Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa, who have been embroiled in mud-slinging matches and political contests since the formation of the ANC breakaway group in 2008.
Pienaar said the first clash happened on Wednesday morning, at the start of the conference, when delegates "started throwing rocks and chairs at one another".
Lekota supporters were inside the venue; Shilowa supporters were outside.
Some entrances were blocked by the chairs that had been thrown around.
Pienaar said the venue had only been booked for one day, but that organisers asked to use it again on Thursday.
He agreed, but insisted that police officers be deployed to keep an eye on the conference.
The event continued on Wednesday, and, "at some stage, all these bakkies started arriving".
Pienaar said: "It seems to me this other guy [Shilowa] started bussing in folks."
By Wednesday evening, delegates had nowhere to go and he said he was forced to agree to let them spend the night at the facility.
But, there were 4 000 delegates, and the church had only been asked to cater for 2 500.
"Everywhere, people were sleeping, but there was no food," said Pienaar.
By late Friday morning, most delegates had left, with Lekota's supporters reportedly planning to continue the conference at the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) festival in Pretoria.
The NYDA did not want to say anything, when asked for comment by Sapa.
Pretoria police denied reports that 13 people had been injured during the scuffles between supporters of Shilowa and Lekota, who was due to address the media in Johannesburg at 14:00.
Cope spokesman Philip Dexter said there were again some incidences of violence in the early hours of Thursday morning.
"We as the working committee left and have been meeting and will now have a press conference at 14:00.
"But essentially the conference did not take place."
This was because of "disputes around the delegates' forms" and "huge administrative" problems.
"We just were unable to start because of incidents of violence."
Pienaar said the "whole voting process never happened".
He said he felt sorry for the older women who waited patiently to register for the conference.
"The leaders will be held accountable to their people. It's not fair, it's not right to their people."
He said it was a humbling experience to see the patience of some of the older delegates.
But that is not the only thing Pienaar learnt.
"I would not host another political event again," he said.