No apologies for not inviting ANC

2010-11-03 18:11

Johannesburg - The ANC's scathing reaction to last week's civil society conference was "reminiscent of the paranoia of the Mbeki era", the conference co-hosts said on Wednesday.

"It is a conduct that suggests the ANC or some of the people who hide under its flag have something to fear," said Section27 executive director Mark Heywood.

Section27 and the Treatment Action Campaign co-hosted a civil society conference with the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) last week, a move that angered the ANC.

Former president Thabo Mbeki did not enjoy a cordial relationship with the TAC, or the ANC's alliance partner, Cosatu, and his leadership-style was often criticised. This led to his ousting by current ANC president Jacob Zuma.

The ANC's National Working Committee (NWC) on Tuesday accused Cosatu and civil society of taking an oppositionist stance towards the ANC-led government.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe raised caution against attempting to affect regime change. Mantashe said the ANC-government should have been invited to attend as it was criticised "in absentia" and not given the space to defend itself.

"The ANC shouldn't close down the voices of criticism... the ANC ought to be able to withstand internal criticism," Heywood said.

"If it wants to go back to the Mbeki-ANC, then it will close down those voices."

The ruling party's reaction, coupled with its Media Appeals Tribunal proposal and the contentious protection of information bill suggested that there were "some people hell bent on closing down those voices".

Heywood said Cosatu had committed to an ongoing campaign with civil society and believed that the federation would hold to that.

He described Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi's response to the ANC's criticism as "brave". Vavi described the ANC's response as "paranoid".

Heywood cautioned, however, that civil society would not be drawn into any political games.

"Civil society is not interested in being a pawn in anybody's game including Cosatu's, if there is a game," he said.

Allegations of corruption

TAC chairperson Nonkosi Khumalo said civil society would not apologise for going ahead with the conference and for failing to invite the ANC or any other political party.

"We don't need a stamp of approval from them (the ANC)," she said.

"I don't think we have to be apologetic in any way."

She said it was not a meeting of political parties and that civil society had meetings with government and knew its policies.

The issue of service delivery was a problem "for a long time", she said, adding that the conference was a platform to find ways to deal with service delivery problems in "different ways".

Heywood added that the reaction from the NWC was not surprising since people such as former communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda, convicted fraudster Tony Yengeni and ANC Youth League president Julius Malema all sat on the working committee and were "people mired in allegations of corruption".

The TAC and Section27 believed the NWC should have welcomed the conference and said in hindsight it still would not have invited political parties.

The purpose of the conference was to forge unity between civil society and "find common causes and common strategies" in the various campaigns for social justice.

The conference would not be the last.