Pietermaritzburg – As tensions between ANC factions in the Moses Mabhida region escalate to the point where there are fears that blood may be shed, rival groups have resorted to hiring armed guards for protection at heated branch meetings.
The meetings, called branch general meetings (BGMs), are being called to elect presidential candidates ahead of the ANC’s national conference.
Presidential hopeful Cyril Ramaphosa’s supporters said they resolved to bring their own security to ANC meetings after backers of the ANC deputy president’s rival, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, had brought bodyguards and municipal security guards to meetings.
According to Ramaphosa backers, the armed guards had been harassing those seen as opposed to Dlamini-Zuma’s candidature.
“We took the decision to bring our own private security to the BGMs after our members were turned away at gunpoint.
“We can’t fold our arms when legitimate ANC branch members continue to be subjected to extreme violence at meetings,” Ramaphosa faction’s KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson Sthembiso Mshengu said.
This as a fierce ANC succession battle pitting Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa’s supporters against each other, rages on in the region.
There have been a number of instances where Ramaphosa supporters had accused the region’s Dlamini-Zuma backers, who currently control several municipalities including Msunduzi, of using council security guards as well as other government resources, to intimidate rivals at ANC meetings.
Several Ramaphosa supporters have complained of being kicked out of meetings by armed security guards.
“The turning point was when several Msunduzi security guards as well councillors’ bodyguards armed with pump guns and other dangerous weapons were called in to remove branch members aligned to Ramaphosa at a meeting in Ward 19 in Imbali on Sunday,” said a Ramaphosa supporter, who is a former Msunduzi councillor, but not allowed to speak to the media.
“We then decided to put together some funds to hire private security that can protect our members at meetings. From today onwards there won’t be any of our members attending a BGM without security,” he said.
According to the Ramaphosa supporter, armed guards had cocked their guns and threatened to shoot at those ANC members who had been refusing to vacate the meeting.
While branch 19 chairperson Caiphas Ndawonde conceded that there were armed people at the venue, he described them as bodyguards who had accompanied regional ANC leaders overseeing proceedings at the meeting.
“Some people had turned violent after being told to leave as they were not on the membership roll.
“ANC guidelines bar any member who is not on the members’ roll from participating in a BGM,” he said.
The Ward 19 meeting could not go ahead as it had failed to get a quorum.
“No decision has been made as to when the next meeting will take place,” Ndawonde said.
Over and above the endorsement of presidential candidates, the role of BGMs is to elect delegates to represent branches at the conference.
As per figures released by the ANC’s Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) last week, Dlamini-Zuma has taken an early lead against her rival after the former AU chairperson had received backing in 59 of the 60 branches that had concluded their BGMs in the region.
However, Ramaphosa supporters have attributed Dlamini-Zuma’s massive lead in the region to vote-rigging, a claim denied by the Dlamini-Zuma faction.
Several vote-rigging complaints lodged with the ANC national office by Ramaphosa supporters this week saw Luthuli House set up a task team to probe the claims.
The task team, comprising ANC National Executive (NEC) members, is led by Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor, who this week was announced as Ramaphosa’s presidential running mate.
By Tuesday, it was still not clear when the team would be visiting the province.
While there were reports claiming Dlamini-Zuma was way ahead of her rival in the province, unofficial statistics show Ramaphosa leading nationally.
Meanwhile, Msunduzi Municipality spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said the council was not aware of any instances where either its personnel or assets had been used in ANC gatherings.