BY-ELECTIONS: Former ANC councillors battle with the party for soul of the Free State's Maluti-a-Phofung

ANC flag. (Thulani Mbele, Gallo Images, Sowetan, file)
ANC flag. (Thulani Mbele, Gallo Images, Sowetan, file)

Fifteen Maluti-a-Phofung councillors believe that they have the "upper hand" as they go head-to-head with their former party for control of the troubled municipality in the Electoral Commission of SA's (IEC) by-elections on Wednesday.

It is believed that the councillors will contest 15 of the municipality's 35 wards.

The provincial executive committee threw the councillors out of the party, claiming they assisted opposition parties to remove then mayor Vusi Tshabalala.

"These are brave people, and everyone knows they have the ability to bring stability back to the municipality," Paratlane Motloung, a spokesperson for the group, told News24 on Tuesday.

READ | Gauteng ANC holds summit on 'deteriorating state of local government'

Motloung, who the ANC has also recently served with a suspension letter, said the councillors had been targeted by allies of former provincial chairperson and current ANC secretary general, Ace Magashule.

Initially, there were 16 councillors. But, he said, 15 of them decided to go at it alone after failed talks with ANC national executive committee members at the beginning of the month.

"We have been able to campaign well and we think we have the upper hand in the wards we are contesting," said Motloung.

He said the councillors were likely to get support because: "The people here have had it with the ANC."

READ | Disgruntled ANC Free State members 'pursuing their personal interests and want tenders'

He added that while the 15 were former leaders in the party, they have shown the community that they have the ability to take a stand against corruption.

"These were brave people," he said.

Motloung also claims the municipality, which is now under administration and has been struggling with crippling debt, including millions owed to electricity provider Eskom, performed better during the six months the councillors and new mayor Gilbert Mokotso were in charge.

READ | ANC Free State 3 head back to court to challenge party list

Mokotso was one of the councillors who was expelled.

"There was stability, employees could get salaries on time, there was some improvement in the collection of refuse… the community has seen what they can do," said Motloung.

"Voting for them means bringing back stability in the community, water, electricity, roads and the collection of refuse," he said.

Political issues can be solved

The SACP in the province, which continues to have a frosty relationship with the ANC there, said it believes the governing party made a mistake by expelling the party members.

"Our view is the problems there are political in nature and throwing the Constitution at them won't help resolve them," said SACP provincial spokesperson Phillip Kganyago.

He suggested the ANC failed to heed the communist party's suggestion to use the entire alliance movement, which includes both parties, labour federation Cosatu and civic organisation Sanco, in the Free State to resolve long-standing issues in the troubled municipality.

Kganyago also said the SACP supported the now expelled councillors, saying their decision to work toward removing Tshabalala as mayor, who has since been appointed the chief whip in the Free State legislature, was correct.

"Their actions were not contrary to what the ANC stands for as an organisation. It does not tolerate corruption and maladministration," said Kganyago.

He said the ANC should have been behind the 15 councillors' bids to contest the by-elections and have all the organisations under the alliance working as one to unite people behind the liberation movement.

Kganyago added that the SACP was disappointed by the ANC's failure to include the communist party in its processes.

Unity can't come 'at the expense of ANC'

But the ANC in the Free State says the SACP has no business dictating how it must deal with its members.

Its spokesperson, Thabo Meeko, who spent much of Tuesday with Magashule, who had returned to his home province to assist the ANC campaign, said some issues did not need the involvement of the entire alliance.

"We told the SACP and will still say it to the broader alliance: Matters of discipline in the ANC are issues of the ANC - not the alliance," Meeko said.

He said while unity was an all-inclusive idea, "it should not come at the expense of the ANC" and should not be used to compromise the essence of the governing party.

Meeko, while campaigning for Wednesday's by-election, said it had been difficult but that the ANC ran a "wall-to-wall" campaign.

While he expressed confidence that enough had been done, the ANC Free State spokesperson admitted there was some concern about the 15 independent councillors.

"These are people orientated with ANC programmes and strategy as far as mass mobilisation is concerned. They also ran a misinformation campaign against the ANC," Meeko claimed.

He said the councillors manipulated people's emotions but insisted that while its former members tried to tarnish the party's name, it made sure to apologise and explain itself to the people of Maluti-a-Phofung.

"We believe our people still have hope in the ANC," said Meeko.

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