Johannesburg - Thousands of North West residents were left high and dry on Tuesday when President Jacob Zuma failed to arrive – after security concerns forced him to radically change his plans.
He is the second high-profile ANC leader to avoid no-go areas in less than a week after Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula was forced to abandon a rally in the area on Sunday.
Zuma had been scheduled to embark on his door-to-door campaign and public address around the troubled mining settlements of Wonderkop and Brits in the so-called platinum belt, which has been hit by a protracted, crippling strike over wage demands.
But his programme, which had been circulated to the media, was altered before he even arrived at the local Madibeng municipality for his debriefing with councillors, provincial politicians, and traditional and religious leaders.
His planned election campaign was turned into an imbizo or consultative forum, held behind closed doors.
It later emerged Zuma had cancelled his planned campaign trail because of security concerns.
“Due to the violence in that area, the (North West) provincial executive committee took a deliberate decision that the president will instead speak to people in Sonop (one of the settlements),” North West provincial chairman Supra Mahumapelo said.
“We do not want to draw unnecessary attention… We do not want to give anarchists a platform to advance their agenda.”
Later, the president did not make a scheduled appearance in Sandton during which business people endorsed the governing party’s manifesto.
On Sunday, a rally Mbalula was to have addressed in Freedom Park was cancelled when violence erupted. Vehicles, including those of Mbalula’s convoy, were pelted with stones, while houses belonging to two councillors and a municipal building were set alight.
Freedom Park and Wonderkop are strongholds of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, a rival of the ANC-linked National Union of Mineworkers.
Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said the government’s safety and security cluster had identified Madibeng as among three areas across the country that were “red zones” that could threaten the elections. The others were Sterkspruit in the Eastern Cape and Malamulele in Limpopo.
Mahumapelo said Zuma would speak only to traditional and religious leaders, plus about 25 people who had been displaced in Marikana.
Nevertheless, hundreds of residents of Sonop, which falls under the powerful Bapo Ba Mogale Tribal Authority, were kept waiting nearly the whole day.
By 5pm, with Zuma still not having arrived, many started to stream out of the venue. Many could be heard shouting profanities at the president and the ANC as they left. Some had been waiting from as early as 7am.
Around 6pm, a convoy arrived to officially tell those who remained that Zuma would not be coming.
“I arrived here with high hopes to tell the president our problems. We came here only to waste our time. I am so disappointed,” said Ongezwa Zitumane, from Bokfontein near Brits.
Zuma had also been scheduled to visit Letlhabile and other Batho Ba Mokgale communities, but also stood them up over security concerns.
The Star has learnt that traditional and religious leaders have asked Zuma to declare a state of emergency in the platinum belt because of the violence and poverty as a result of the strike.