Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane address the legislature on Bekkersdal. File photo: Motshwari Mofokeng

Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane’s spokesman Thebe Mohatle sets the record straight about the “misunderstanding”.

Johannesburg - For thousands of Bekkersdal residents, the weekend of October 25 to 27 will be embedded in their minds as one that gave rise to the “dirty votes” controversy. Unless corrected, the “dirty voter” misunderstanding will demonise Nomvula Mokonyane as a foul-mouthed government official.

Expectedly, the community is enraged, while the political opposition is using it as an opportunity to heighten tensions ahead of the elections. The media is on a feeding frenzy. So, it is imperative to set the record straight.

 Here is the first truth. Premier Mokonyane went to Bekkersdal on the afternoon of Friday, October 25, to gain insight into the extent of the protest action. After a walk and a series of impromptu meetings with residents along the way, a large group followed her. On reaching an assembly point, it was evident that people had become divided by a boisterous group hell bent on causing trouble.

In the melee, an abusive and intoxicated group insulted Premier Mokonyane and shouted: “The ANC will not get our votes if the mayor and her councillors are not fired immediately and the council put under administration. We are determined to destroy property, blockade streets and harm any official that would come into our township.”

In response, Premier Mokonyane stated: “We live in an ANC-led democratic state that embraces all constitutional and administrative legislation that governs the election and appointment of officials and political leadership. In recognising freedom of speech, every voter has a choice to make and may therefore not blackmail the ANC into acting unconstitutionally by removing leaders under threats of losing votes or damaging property. If it were such, then voters that play dirty political games might as well keep their dirty votes because the ANC as an organisation and as government may never be dragged into undemocratic and unconstitutional processes of replacing leaders.”

The premier repeated the statement when she later addressed a group at the SAPS Operations Centre. This included members of the media, the SAPS, some members of the ANC, members of the UDM, taxi business operators, leaders of faith-based organisations and many others.

In addition, and later on Sunday afternoon, MEC for Economic Development Mxolisi Xayiya and Mayor Mpho Nawa explained the electoral process to the media after attacks on churches earlier in the day. They presented real challenges in Bekkersdal and warned against consequences of yielding to blackmail in a democracy.

Without sensationalising the “dirty vote” piece, I believe it would have been fair for the media to have accurately reported such, since most of them were in close proximity and had their recording devices literally stuck in the premier’s and officials’ faces.

Meanwhile, and in opportunistic fashion, the DA and its allies have exploited the misunderstanding.

It is not surprising that leaders like Mmusi Maimane, the DA Gauteng premier candidate, have gone on to create the electoral punch-line: “When residents take to the streets, they are told their votes are dirty” (The Citizen, October 29).

Another point that must be borne in mind is that Bekkersdal has been taken over by criminal elements who reject dialogue by shifting the protest from service delivery to a more sinister plot of paralysing the government and holding people to ransom.

For example, Premier Mokonyane, MEC Xayiya, MEC Mazibuko and executive mayor Mpho Nawa joined various congregations on the Sunday to follow up on a decision by faith-based organisations to share their action-bound decisions that were passed in a meeting on the Saturday.

Sunday’s hostile reception, the stoning and the interruption of sermons defeated the will to find solutions. Volunteers who had begun clearing the streets, damaged government properties and the taxi rank were chased away. Children were used to pilfer and set up barricades to hold the community hostage. Against government wishes, matrics had to be moved to a safe place to sit for their exams.

Premier Mokonyane has stated the ANC-led government will not be blackmailed when democratic processes are threatened in the name of securing a voting franchise.

And let me emphasise, no South African should consider themselves “dirty voters” when voting time dawns.

* Thebe Mohatle is spokesman for Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

The Star