Despite ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule and the governing party cautioning party members not to come out in his support, thousands arrived at the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court on Friday.
Chaotic scenes ensued, with senior ANC leaders almost coming to blows with members of the SA Police Service.
Security had to be beefed up in front of the court, with both Aliwal Street and Peet Avenue cordoned off by police.
Tensions ran high when ANC national executive committee (NEC) members Tony Yengeni, Malusi Gigaba, Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association spokesperson Carl Niehaus, former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, Ekurhuleni chairperson Mzwandile Masina and former #FeesMustFall activist Mcebo Dlamini were denied entry to the cordoned off area.
Supporters initially pleaded with members of the police to “at least allow the leaders” to enter, as they had already been granted accreditation by officials at the court.
However, this plea fell on deaf ears, as the police used razor wire to push back Yengeni and Niehaus.
This incensed the crowd and the ANC leaders.
Speaking to the media, Yengeni said the initial agreement was that “only 15 members of the ANC leadership would be allowed into the court as a result of Covid-19 restrictions”.
“They [law enforcement officials] are now telling us that they’ll only allow five members in. Besides this, they’re now sectioning off areas that were never initially identified for restriction.”
The enraged Yengeni said there was nothing to legitimately deny him access to the court and he was there in his official capacity.
“I fought for these ANC colours and won’t be told by anyone what not to do. There was never an NEC resolution stating that we couldn’t come and support Magashule. I’m an ANC NEC member and I would know if such a ruling had been taken,” said Yengeni.
Mahumapelo showed the media his accreditation and demanded to know why he was being “pushed around like a thug”.
“As leadership, we came here to calm the crowd, but the manner in which the police are treating us is inciting violence. We were accredited and are now being denied access. How can one say that this isn’t being politicised?” he asked.
He said the arrest of Magashule had come as no surprise. “After the Nasrec conference in 2017, there were murmurs from people that Magashule shouldn’t finish his term and that everything in their power would be done to ensure he couldn’t.
This was also said about me and [former President Jacob] Zuma, and they’re dead set on making it happen.
“We’re now being treated like outcasts in our own organisation,” added Mahumapelo.
Not all in attendance were in support of the former Free State premier. The leader of the DA in the Free State legislature, Roy Jankielsohn, arrived with a handful of DA supporters.
“We’re here in support of our criminal justice system. We’re hoping that the wheels of justice have finally began to turn against Magashule, who’s left a legacy of corruption in the Free State.
“Our people in the province are poverty-stricken because of the corruption that took place under his watch as premier of the Free State,” he told City Press.
He added that “very little had changed” since the new premier, Sisi Ntombela, had taken office.
“It’s been business as usual. She’s just Ace in a dress,” said Jankielsohn.