A rally in Limpopo turned into an ugly battle for Mangaung, quite literally, when supporters of Julius Malema and President Jacob Zuma clashed violently, with some assaulting and threatening to shoot their comrades.
Police say they are tired of putting out fires at illegal, chaotic ANC meetings attended by drunks.
Cars were smashed and factions exchanged missiles – including bottles – at the Motetema campus of Sekhukhune College on Friday afternoon where Malema was scheduled to speak.
No casualties were reported.
The fight took place between the Friends of the Youth League – an outfit that has kept Malema politically relevant since his expulsion from the ruling party – and those backing Zuma’s bid for a second term.
Limpopo police spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi confirmed the clashes and said they were investigating.
“Two cars were stoned. We are investigating two cases of malicious damage to property,” Mulaudzi said.
The police were concerned about illegal gatherings in Limpopo because of the “political upheaval” in the province, he said.
As a result, the police have decided to stop these meetings, threatening to arrest conveners.
“In most of these meetings we have seen that most of the delegates come intoxicated and we will not hesitate to arrest anyone irrespective of their stature in those organisations,” he said.
Police insiders said the Friends of the Youth League had failed to inform them about their planned meeting as required by the bylaws.
It was only after the battle broke out, according to an insider who refused to be named, that Malema supporters made desperate calls to the police, who agreed to maintain order outside the venue.
The Sunday Independent spoke to six sources who attended the meeting, but refused to be identified, citing factional fights and mistrust in the provincial ANC.
A member of a branch executive committee confirmed the incident.
“The window of a white Mercedes Benz MLS was smashed.
“When I passed the Motetema police station on Friday night, other damaged cars were parked there,” he said.
The skirmish erupted while Malema was reportedly on his way to address the gathering. He never showed up at the rally.
One source said some ANC and youth league leaders opposed to Malema fought with his sympathisers led by the former youth leader’s confidant and right-hand man Jacob Lebogo, who is also the league’s Limpopo secretary.
Another Friends of the Youth League member who is said to have been involved in the fights included Joseph Buthane, the league’s Peter Mokaba regional secretary.
Buthane and Malema referred all queries to Lebogo, who confirmed that he had addressed a gathering in Motetema on Friday, but denied any clashes.
“What I went there for was to meet the leadership and that meeting went well. I am driving my car right now and I can bring it to you to inspect it to see if there is any damage on it. There is nothing of the sort. I don’t understand how you work with your sources because they are giving you wrong information. You must find reliable sources,” Lebogo said.
He said his detractors were using his name and that of Malema to seek publicity.
But Richard Maabane, a branch member who attended the meeting, confirmed on Friday night that he took part in the clashes.
Maabane said he and his comrades rushed to Motetema after hearing that Lebogo, Buthane and others were preparing for Malema’s address.
“We told Lebogo to leave the podium because we knew he was going to insult the president (Zuma) and (Limpopo Education MEC) Dickson Masemola.
“That is what triggered the fight. (Lebogo) called ANCYL security and one of them threatened to shoot us if we continued to disrupt the meeting,” Maabane said.
He said they told the man to shoot, but he ran to his car.
Maabane said he and other anti-Malema supporters objected to the former youth leader addressing the ruling party’s gathering because he was no longer an ANC member.
Maabane said they did not want the Friends of the Youth League to decorate the podium with par ty flags and colours, or discuss ANC leadership succession because the group’s aims and objectives were “unknown”.
He accused Malema’s supporters of using the group as a platform to insult Zuma and his ally, Masemola.
Malema has been on a road show, questioning Zuma’s leadership and personal integrity. In Polokwane this week, the former youth leader again called for the removal of Zuma as ANC president and questioned his “thinking capacity” and polygamous lifestyle.
Maabane vowed to fight Malema’s supporters.
“If the Friends of the Youth League continue making statements about the leadership of the ANC at national level and in this province… we will respond whether physically, verbally or with whatever we have,” Maabane said.
A member of the local Brian Tjantji Kabine ANC branch, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, said they defended Masemola because he was their “only hope for the premiership”.
Masemola, the party’s deputy chairman, broke ranks with the province’s position not to support Zuma’s second-term bid.
The branch member accused Malema and Mathale of marginalising leaders from Sekhukhune, the biggest ANC region in the province.
“There is only one MEC from Sekhukhune, Dickson, whom they also want to fire… We are also seeing a trend where big tenders are going to Mopani (another region).
“Since the province was placed under administration, they have been attacking our municipality for taking tenders,” said the source.
Masemola said he was not aware of the skirmishes in Motetema.
He also said he was not aware that his name was used to fight factional battles.
“The issue of public attacks on the deputy chairperson of the ANC by the ANCYL is a matter that needs the ANC’s attention and hopefully it will attend to it,” Masemola said.
Spokesman Keith Khoza said the Friends of the Youth League did not have any standing in the ANC.
ANC provincial secretary Soviet Lekganyane could not be reached for comment.