A test of unity: ANC's splintered military vets try to smoke peace pipe at conference

uMkhonto weSizwe.
uMkhonto weSizwe.
Laird Forbes, Gallo Images

Factional battles between the ANC's uMkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) and the uMkhonto weSizwe council could finally be buried this weekend at a joint "inclusive conference" to elect new leadership.

The ANC's national executive committee (NEC) nullified a 2017 conference in which MKMVA president Kebby Maphatsoe was re-elected, amid claims that he pushed ahead with that conference without permission to do so.

READ | Family to finally bury fallen MK operative, 41 years after his death

Former ANC president Jacob Zuma also addressed that gathering, which left some angry, claiming his appearance endorsed the event.

One of the organisers of the conference, former commissar Gregory Nthatisi told News24 that getting the association right, as well as the welfare of veterans, were paramount.

"We shouldn't be worrying ourselves about the issue of leadership. This contaminated the association. Problems of the ANC have contaminated many of its structures as people seek to be leaders at all cost," said Nthatisi.

Satisfied with progress

READ | Umkhonto we Sizwe - Zuma unlikely to get a fair trial in SA

He said the conference, which kicks off on Thursday, should not be reduced to a leadership contest.

News24 understands both factions share Nthatisi's sentiments.

The NEC's preparatory team, comprising six members of both factions, was tasked with convening the conference.

The team said it was satisfied with the progress made over the past few months in the run-up to the gathering.

An insider believed Maphatsoe was likely to return as the leader of the organisation, claiming former generals and commissars of the organisation seemed disinterested in a leadership contest.

"Kebby is likely to stand again. Not sure if there will even be a counter. Contestation is not hectic at all," said the insider.

The MKMVA member said it seemed former leaders were focused on furthering particular causes.

"I really don't think their purpose was to win the conference. For them it seems to be about living conditions of veterans and their privileges," said the source.

"Even if they tried to contest, they just don't simply have the numbers."

He said the issue of leadership was purposely left out to allow branches and regions of the organisation to focus on the concerns the organisation needed to address.

"No nominations were asked for. People are to be nominated from the floor. We avoided to create a situation where that became the focus," Nthatisi told News24.

Nthatisi added that beyond looking after the well-being of veterans, the upcoming conference needed to develop mechanisms for how former MK combatants could still add value.

"The ANC invested in them and they have not been used fully. How can the association be used to serve? They command vast knowledge of the ANC and its historical mission. They can help in creating more well-rounded structures in the party," Nthatisi said.

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