‘The clash of the Titans’

2008-12-15 00:00

A tense Bloemfontein is preparing itself for what some of the locals have dubbed the clash of the Titans. The ANC and breakaway party Congress of the People (Cope) will both be holding rallies in the city today.

Since Sunday a local radio station and community newspaper have been warning residents to keep off the streets and stay at home today.

Police presence around the conference venue remains discreet and so far the only signs of any pending clash are the dozens of ANC posters put up all around the Free State University, the venue of Cope’s launch congress. They were put up early on Sunday morning and by late yesterday Cope supporters hadn’t removed them.

Free State police spokesman Sam Makhele said that police top brass in Free State were working closely with leaders of both organisations to prevent clashes.

“Although there have not been any clashes since Cope began its conference on Friday, we cannot rule out the possibility of clashes tomorrow. We will deploy more police officers during the rallies to ensure that there is no violence,” said Makhele.

The party’s interim deputy chairman, Mbhazima Shilowa, said they are worried that the ANC planned activities on the basis that another party has arranged its conference. He recalled what happened in KwaZulu-Natal in the past when both ANC and IFP members used to attend meetings at the same time. Coincidently the venues would be in the same vicinity. On the way there members would cross paths and clashes would take place.

Shilowa appealed to the public, the media, the churches and business people to keep watch on the situation. “They [the ANC] have a right to hold a meeting, whether we will be able to control the route is another matter.” He said they have spoken sharply to their members on the importance of tolerance.

He added that they are not in a state of panic over the issue: “The minute you panic, you can press a button written ‘self-destruct’. We hope that we will have a peaceful rally.”

The venue of the Cope rally was changed at the last minute yesterday, from a stadium in Botshabelo, some 60 km from Bloemfontein, to the Free State cricket stadium in the city. This was because Cope was informed that they could not use the stadium because renovations were being carried out.

The party’s communication head, Phillip Dexter, said this has become an ongoing problem where public venues are being blocked and Cope is prevented from using them.

He warned that if public facilities are available for one political party only, this is not good for democracy as all political parties are not on a level playing field.

He said they were pressed for time and could not challenge the matter, but that they will do so in future whenever they are blocked from using a public facility.

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