Oudtshoorn - A revolt in the Klein Karoo town of Oudtshoorn over an impending reshuffle of the council has exposed a deep rift in the ANC’s provincial leadership, with senior party members being fingered as instigators in the violent protest.
It is no secret that the embattled municipality has been riven with acrimonious political battles over recent years, and that there’s still a dark cloud lingering as it awaits the findings of a Special Investigating Unit probe into allegations of malpractice and corruption.
The town was rocked on Tuesday night by stun grenades as police had to evacuate ANC provincial chairman Marius Fransman, along with other party members trapped inside the municipal building.
Fransman narrowly escaped injury as his security detail and police managed to keep the mob at bay.
Since then, the powers of the ANC’s sub-region in Oudtshoorn have been suspended, pending an investigation. The party has said it is still fingering culprits, and that the problem is a high-level one.
Maurencia Gillion, the party’s provincial deputy secretary, who accompanied Fransman to Oudtshoorn, came out strongly against political meddling and infighting in the town. Confirming the move to suspend the Oudtshoorn sub- region, she called the situation “unacceptable”.
“It’s quite clear there’re people at a provincial level who have worked hand in hand with some of these individuals to embarrass the ANC and try and stop us from sorting out the maladministration.”
ANC insiders claimed the top five provincial party officials were at loggerheads over changes to be effected in Oudtshoorn. All five were expected at the Tuesday meeting in the town, but only Fransman and Gillion showed up.
Party treasurer Fezile Calana could not go because he was heading the disciplinary action against Cederberg mayor Jonas White, while ANC provincial secretary Songezo Mjongile and deputy chair Abe Pekeur had prior engagements.
Defending the unity in the provincial structures, Mjongile argued that there was nothing sinister about his absence from the meeting.
“I was in Oudtshoorn the week before and the other members were not with (me). There’s no fight between myself and Fransman. Our aim is to unite the province ahead of next year’s elections, that’s what we are focusing on,” he said.
On the Oudtshoorn reshuffle, he added: “It was our decision, we supported it.”
But Oudtshoorn party members told a different story. They said Mjongile, who visited the town with ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte the previous week, misinformed members that councillor Pieter Luiters would replace mayor Gordon April.
Then came Fransman’s announcement that Luiters would return to the Eden district municipality, and Carmichael Ngalo would be reinstated in the council as ANC chief whip.
Charlie Wagenaar would then replace April as mayor.
This was what sparked the violence, with an angry crowd letting fly with fists and bricks, and demanding to see Fransman.
Fransman was adamant the ANC would not be deterred:
“It’s going to get worse in Oudtshoorn before it’s going to get better. We are not going to leave any stone unturned to find out what is wrong in the municipality,” he said yesterday.
He also rubbished claims of a rift in the leadership.
April, who the party said had agreed to step down, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The Oudtshoorn municipality confirmed that April was still executive mayor until the council voted otherwise.
“The next council meeting will take place on May 31, as per the approved council meetings scheduled for 2013,” acting municipal manager Francois Human said. But he acknowledged that special meetings were sometimes held to address urgent matters.
Several Oudtshoorn ANC members, meanwhile, distanced themselves from the attack. They claimed that the local Oudtshoorn sub-region was the root of the problem.
“They operate like a Mafia, basically threatening whoever wants to correct the wrongs in the administration. And they’ve been putting pressure on municipal officials to appoint several contract workers in posts not on the municipality’s organogram,” members claimed.
Municipal staff also claimed that “more than 40 percent of illegal appointments were never budgeted for”.
Some ANC members said contract workers were appointed for patronage purposes, and stood to lose their jobs if Fransman’s instructions were affected.
ANC supporter Fanie Booysen, who saw the drama unfold, also blamed the Oudtshoorn sub-region, saying it was inciting people by telling them “Fransman will not come and tell them who should run the municipality”.