Thabo Mabotja, 24, of Seshego outside Polokwane.

Johannesburg - One of President Jacob Zuma’s staunchest supporters had a brick hurled in his face just hours before the Limpopo ANC nomination conference was reconvened on Wednesday.

Former ANC Youth League sub-regional leader Thabo Mabotja, who openly challenged Julius Malema’s authority before the former ANCYL president was fired, was one of four people manhandled by about 50 comrades at the entrance to the provincial ANC headquarters on Tuesday night. The rest escaped unhurt, but their car was smashed.

The attackers are believed to be supporters of Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.

The Limpopo ANC, led by Premier Cassel Mathale, has endorsed Motlanthe’s bid to depose Zuma in Mangaung, but some Zuma supporters have openly revolted against this.

The Mabotja incident appears to be a tit-for-tat attack after Zuma supporters stormed the venue of the collapsed nomination conference last weekend. They hurled stones and held Malema’s confidant, Limpopo ANCYL secretary Jacob Lebogo, hostage before threatening to kill him.

The assault happened while ANC national executive committee members sent to oversee the Limpopo provincial council met behind closed doors with the Limpopo ANC leadership to discuss the conference.

They included Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, Ruth Bhengu and Billy Masetlha.

Mthethwa has been accused of hijacking the North West nomination conference, allegedly replacing Motlanthe supporters with rented crowds mandated to vote for Zuma. His spokesman, Zweli Mnisi, and the ANC have dismissed the allegations.

Mabotja, 24, said he was walking on the street with three friends when “suddenly this group of over 50 people attacked us for no reason”. The car’s windscreen was smashed and the passenger door handle was broken, he said.

Mabotja, a member of the ANC’s Philip Legodi branch in Seshego, said his assailants hit him with sticks and kicked him while he lay on the ground.

He was rescued by a man in the group, who begged his comrades to stop assaulting him because he was bleeding.

“I don’t know who that person was, but I could hear him saying to them ‘stop, stop beating him, otherwise he will die’,” said Mabotja.

He has opened a case of assault with intent do grievous bodily harm and robbery of cash, a cellphone and spectacles.

The owner of the damaged car also opened a case of malicious damage to property and robbery of his cellphone.

Limpopo police spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi confirmed that Mabotja had laid criminal charges. No one had been arrested.

After a nine-hour delay, the Limpopo nomination conference finally started in Polokwane amid tight security, boycott threats and the heckling of Zuma allies.

Zuma’s trusted ally in Limpopo, deputy provincial ANC chairman and education MEC Dickson Masemola, was heckled when he entered the venue. A section of the crowd sang songs mocking him for having presided over the province’s textbook scandal.

By contrast, Motlanthe supporters, such as Mbalula, received a warm reception.

Earlier, Zuma and Motlanthe supporters almost exchanged blows outside the registration venue at St Marco Hall in Ladine, about 15km from the main venue in Dalmada.

Malema’s ally, Peter Mokaba ANCYL regional secretary Jossey Buthane, was rescued by the police from Zuma supporters who bayed for his blood.

This came after he drove his luxury car past a crowd near the hall. They charged at him, banging the car with their hands.

Addressing a pro-Zuma caucus at the registration hall, former Limpopo ANC secretary Joe Maswanganyi again accused Motlanthe’s supporters of trying to rig the election.

“You do not need to panic. Anything that will happen here and in the Western Cape will be officiated by [the] national [office],” said Maswanganyi.

According to an ANC insider, Luthuli House brought in their own security, “but we made sure our security out-numbered theirs”.

Rival factions again squabbled over credentials, with Zuma supporters initially refusing to take part until disputes were sorted out.

A Zuma supporter once again accused the Limpopo ANC leadership of using bogus delegates to “steal” the conference.

A pro-Motlanthe regional leader said Zuma supporters deliberately disputed the credentials as a ploy to again collapse the conference because they had very little support.

“The Zuma faction does not want to register. They claim there is a dispute. Nathi is here and he tried to get involved and we put our foot down,” the leader said.

The Star was unable to get comment from Mthethwa.

More than 20 police cars manned the main road leading to the venue, stopping cars and searching occupants.

A panga and a knobkierie were confiscated.

Armed public order police separated rival supporters. More than 10 police cars and an Nyala were parked in the grounds.

Final results of the nomination conference were expected on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Sapa reports that two men were arrested last night when people tried to force their way into the conference.

“Police tried to speak to them… they became unruly and started pelting the police with stones,” spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said.

They were believed to be supporters of Zuma. Police used a water cannon to disperse them. They would appear in the Polokwane Magistrate’s Court soon on public violence charges.

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