Johannesburg - The sight of ANC colours boils the blood of many in Bekkersdal, the west-of-Joburg township that remains volatile three days before the elections.
No sooner had a handful of ANC youths set up two marquees in a community park on May Day than a meeting by members of the Greater Westonaria Concerned Residents Association resolved they should be removed.
The meeting heard that removing the ANC youths – dressed in the party’s T-shirts and drinking alcohol in the park – was in line with the community’s “resolution” that the party was not allowed in Bekkersdal, at least until Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane apologised for her “dirty votes” utterances.
Losing her cool at an angry, booing Bekkersdal crowd she was addressing in October, Mokonyane said the ANC didn’t want their “dirty votes”.
Now that the ANC was gathering publicly in the township, “we feel we’re being belittled and disregarded as a community”, Thabang Wesi, leader of the residents association, told the meeting on Thursday.
Throngs, many of whom were mobilised in the vicinity soon after the meeting, then descended on the park and chaos ensued as tyres went up in flames.
Verbal quarrels and physical threats flared up as the ANC group refused to leave, their standpoint being that they were not campaigning but just gathered for entertainment.
“You’re sell-outs, we don’t want you here. You must go,” a woman shouted at the ANC group.
Another woman yelled at the youth: “Nomvula said the ANC doesn’t want our dirty votes. Our votes are dirty, right? So, what do you want here?”
Standing his ground against the crowd, one ANC member told them: “We’re also members of this community. Don’t treat like us we’re foreigners. We’re not going anywhere. Who said this is a campaign?”, he asked at the top of his voice, before emphasising that they were just having fun at the park and everyone was welcome to join them.
The tension died down when police arrived, but not before the men in blue separated two political foes pushing each other and preparing to throw punches.
On Saturday, heavy police presence in Bekkersdal appeared to have aided the ANC hold its well-attended rally. Different units of police, including tactical response teams, were all over the township as part of a visit by the six security cluster ministers.
“The ministers knew very well there’s an ANC rally taking place in Bekkersdal. They pretended to be coming here to address the issues, knowing very well they are coming to protect ANC members so that they can campaign,” Wesi said.
But ANC national chairwoman Baleka Mbete rejected that heavy police presence was the reason the rally proceeded without intimidation.
“Our people are not unreasonable. I think it’s the people that decided that it’s time to allow the ANC to hold a rally here.”
It’s “not that the people of Bekkersdal hate the ANC, it was anger about specific matters” Mbete said – and added that the issues are now being addressed.
Bekkersdal’s service delivery protest has lasted for a long time. It began in August, with community members demanding the resignation of the Westonaria Local Municipality mayor Nonkoliso Tundzi and councillors over allegations of corruption and nepotism.
The Special Investigating Unit and the auditor-general are investigating. The last confrontation in Bekkersdal happened in March, when a high-powered ANC delegation trying to execute a door-to-door election campaign was stoned. Speaking to The Sunday Independent away from the quarrelling crowd, long-time Azapo member Xolani Nkosi said the community was rejecting the ANC because it had “sold out”.
“At any given time I don’t need these people here. These people know that the ANC sold us out. After 20 years Bekkersdal, as one of the richest townships on Earth, is still the same.
“Bekkersdal produces the finest gold on earth, but we don’t have anything.”
The township is surrounded by gold mines. Wesi confirmed there had been concerted efforts to ensure the ANC didn’t campaign in the township. “What incites this is that the community hasn’t got an apology from the premier, but now the ANC is busy doing their programmes in the township.
“Based on the utterances of the premier, they were never allowed to campaign,” he said.
Wesi would not predict whether violence would erupt on election day, as it did during the Independent Electoral Commission’s registration campaigns in November and February. “I’m not a sangoma, I cannot say what will happen on May 7. But as a community we’re going to vote. We expected Nomvula to come to the township so that the ANC can get that access.”
Top cop Andy Mashaile said “police and the community have engaged to ensure there’s peace and stability on the day of the elections”.
Thebe Mohatle, Mokonyane’s spokesman, shut the door on prospects of the premier visiting Bekkersdal before Wednesday to apologise. “Premier Mokonyane has apologised to the community of Bekkersdal as referenced by (her November 2013) statement and several media forums she has addressed,” he said.