While waiting for the Free State ANC conference to start in Parys on Friday, members chant stage songs and dance to keep warm in the chilly weather there. Picture: Timothy Bernard22.06.2012Pic 0087

If you don’t like the ANC, leave! That’s a key message of the Free State ANC conference, which took place amid tension over alleged vote-buying, rigging of branch meetings and factional splits.

Emphasising the need for intra-party unity, Dina Pule, the ANC national executive committee (NEC) conference convener, acknowledged there had been “jealousies”, but said these had been addressed.

“We must quickly… separate from (those who divide). We must actively reject them,” she said to cheers from delegates. “People who come with tendencies, we must really reject it… They can’t be part of the ANC.”

Pule went on to caution delegates against becoming “members of members” instead of disciplined members of the party: “If you are a member of a member, you are never going to be free.

“When we leave here and go home, send the message to those we left at home: ‘Enough is enough.’ You join the ANC voluntarily. If you don’t want to be part of the ANC, then leave.”

This was a reference to the drive by Mxolisi Dukwana, the provincial ANC treasurer who lost his economic development portfolio in Premier Ace Magashule’s February cabinet reshuffle, to highlight manipulation of processes in the run-up to the conference, where he wanted to challenge Magashule for the chairman’s post.

Former provincial secretary Sibongile Besani shared these concerns as recently as this month, when he sent a letter to the ANC top brass outlining “selective deployments” by members of the ANC provincial executive committee to meetings they were not assigned to and manipulation of branch meetings’ attendance registers. Similar concerns were also raised by the Free State youth league.

The calls for unity, an end to factionalism and a ban on leaking ANC business to the media were echoed by several speakers, including Magashule, who was re-elected unopposed at the conference in Parys, his home turf.

It comes at a time that the ANC is grappling with what it calls “un-ANC” behaviour, including lobbying for positions and the politics of slates, or election candidate lists. At this week’s policy conference, more than 3 550 delegates will discuss a range of proposals to modernise and renew the ANC’s operations, including an integrity commission and a ban on paying for T-shirts.

However, Dukwana boycotted the conference, which he first described as a meeting of “a lobby group” and then as illegitimate.

“The Parys conference can therefore never be regarded as a true reflection of the branches of the ANC in the Free State and there is no way we can recognised its outcome as legitimate,” he said in a statement yesterday.

Those supporting this stance issued a statement on Friday evening saying it was an “illegitimate, fraudulent conference”.

The provincial ANC Youth League (ANCYL) also stayed away in protest against the lack of action to resolve grievances.

However, in a surprise move, suspended league treasurer Pule Mabe arrived – and was welcomed by Magashule as the leader of the ANCYL in a clear snub to the youth league’s ongoing attempts to try to reverse the expulsion of Julius Malema through a “political process” with ANC officials.

However, the Free State ANC conference received the blessing of Luthuli House. It is understood that secretary-general Gwede Mantashe signed off on branch audits on Friday morning, the day the conference start was delayed for more than three hours amid rumours of a court interdict.

A request to Mantashe to intervene, made by a provincial general council held on Wednesday in Bloemfontein, seemingly fell on deaf ears, according to insiders.

Susan Shabangu, the head of the ANC task team to resolve tension, told Independent Newspapers that the audit process had been completed earlier in the week and that the required threshold of 70 percent of branches in good standing was met.

Of the Free State’s 318 ANC branches, 239 were at conference, six above the threshold. A total of 750 voting delegates of the expected 930 attended.

But while there was much talk about unity and the occasional dig at opponents’ use of money by Magashule, the fallout over tension in the run-up was clear.

Credentials, the record of delegates, were not presented as is ANC tradition by the secretary – officially Besani had taken ill, while others insisted he also boycotted the conference – but by the credentials committee chairwoman Nomvula Mokonyane, Gauteng’s premier.

Similarly, the organisational report was not presented by the secretary, but his deputy Mamiki Qabathe, an ally of Magashule’s. There was also some confusion over who would present the treasurer’s report to the conference in Dukwana’s absence.

The conference was a clean sweep for Magashule.

He, his deputy Thabo Manyoni, and Qabathe were re-elected unopposed, while provincial ANC spokesman William Bulwana was elected unopposed as secretary and Mosebenzi Zwane, the agriculture MEC, was unopposed as treasurer.

It was the continuity called for by Fezile Dabi regional ANC official Sizwe Mbalo at the start of the conference: “We are here to renew the mandate of the leadership collective.”

It was the continuity, with a little bit of change, hinted at by Magashule, who referred to the KwaZulu-Natal ANC returning its top five officials at its recent conference. “We must go to ‘Mangaung’ (ANC national conference) united. We must act like KwaZulu-Natal.”

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize attended the conference in his capacity as an NEC member. He was one of an unusually high-powered group of ANC NEC deployees, including Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and Justice Minister Jeff Radebe.

Although tension within the Free State ANC is likely to simmer on, the conference was a boost for Magashule – and in turn for President Jacob Zuma, who was expected at the conference today.

Speaking from a podium dressed with a poster “Hands off Our President Jacob Msholozi Zuma”, Magashule made no bones about where his sentiments are. And neither did the delegates, who sang in favour of the president.

“Zuma emerged out of the Struggle. If you talk about leadership, come December (Mangaung national conference), you’ll apply your mind to who is the best leader,” Magashule said, adding that the ANC needed “tried and tested” leaders.

“Jacob Zuma did not just become a president because he dreamt of being a leader. We voted (for) him at Polokwane.”

Sunday Independent