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Leadership battle causes fracture in Abantu Batho Congress

Gauteng ABC secretary Mduduzi Hlophe with the party's national chairperson Bhungu Gwala during the media briefing yesterday. Photo supplied.

Gauteng ABC secretary Mduduzi Hlophe with the party's national chairperson Bhungu Gwala during the media briefing yesterday. Photo supplied.

Published Aug 24, 2023

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Durban — Abantu Batho Congress (ABC), a political party that was founded by former eThekwini deputy mayor Philani Mavundla three years ago, could go to next year’s general elections fractured as the battle for control of the party intensifies.

The problems came to light last week when a faction led by the national chairperson, Bhungu Gwala, suspended Mavundla and secretary-general Phumelele Phahla.

Gwala’s letter sparked a sharp response from Phahla who challenged Gwala to prove where he got the powers to suspend them.

In a statement penned by Phahla in response, he dismissed the suspension as invalid, questioning Gwala’s powers and asking him to prove where in the party constitution it says he can do that.

Phahla said she earlier announced a disciplinary committee and did not understand why the national chairperson announced a parallel committee.

“It has been brought to the attention of the offices of the president and secretary-general (SG) of ABC that a national disciplinary committee has been appointed through the office of the national chairperson. The formation of this national disciplinary committee was not communicated to the national executive committee (NEC) of the party despite a meeting of the said structure having convened on July 15, 2023. Importantly at that meeting, the SG announced that an ad hoc national disciplinary committee had been set up to deal with various disciplinary matters which had arisen. It comes out from the correspondence sent to the president and the SG that there is now a parallel structure that has been created by the national chairperson’s office.

“The purpose of this committee appears from the correspondence to be to investigate allegations of misconduct against the president and the SG. It is not clear from the correspondence how this structure was formed as its formation was never communicated to the NEC or the office of the SG as the case would be in respect of such serious matters,” said Phahla.

Philani Mavundla has been suspended from his party. Picture: Nqobile Mbonambi/ AfricannewsagencyANA

She said that a reasonable suspicion now exists that the formation of this structure serves as a destruction of disciplinary measures for those who have misconducted themselves.

She said this created the inescapable impression that there are senior members of the party who are involved in sowing divisions with the sole intention of emasculating the current leadership by sabotage and other fraudulent means.

Phahla’s statement cited various clauses of the party constitution with many giving her and Mavundla powers to carry out the work of the party.

She cited Clause 12.2.5.12, which gives the president power to institute and appoint ad hoc committees as well as Clause 12.2.5.16, which gives the president power to rule on the legality of any structure that is a parallel structure or any aspect where there is undermining of the constitution of the party.

Phahla further pointed out that there were no records from the office of the SG that show how this NDC was appointed and it remains a mystery if there was compliance with the constitution. She then gave Gwala until Monday to furnish her with an explanation of how this committee was formed.

Gwala responded by calling a media briefing on Wednesday where he reiterated Mavundla and Phahla’s suspensions from the party pending the outcome of an investigation. He said he exercised his powers from the constitution of the party to appoint a disciplinary committee to look into allegations of misconduct against the two. He said among the allegations were the unlawful disbandment of all the structures of the party as well as failure by the president to present financial statements every year, as per the constitution of the party.

Nelson Mandela Bay University-based political analyst Professor Bheki Mngomezulu said the ABC was suffering the same fate as all other parties that were formed by people who left their original parties out of anger at not getting political positions or not being deployed to government jobs they wanted. He added that such parties are not formed based on different political ideologies and that’s why after the anger has ended, the parties die.

Dr Fikile Vilakazi, from the University of KwaZulu-Natal Politics and Public Policy department, said “stomach politics” was driving the mushrooming of parties that offer no new political ideologies to the voters.

“Most of these party founders are only concerned about getting a seat in Parliament to earn a living for themselves and their families. To them, going to Parliament is a form of employment. That’s why they don’t last,” said Vilakazi.

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