The Centre for Constitutional Rights noticed with utmost concern recent statements and an apparent campaign by the Youth League of the African National Congress (ANCYL) to make the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape “ungovernable”. Although the Constitution indeed guarantees the right to assemble, demonstrate, picket and present petitions in a peaceful and unarmed manner, when such demonstrations and petitions include threats to destabilise a democratically elected government, such actions are not only undemocratic and unconstitutional, but also possibly illegal.
On 1 August, the Dullah Omar region of the ANCYL delivered a memorandum, (written on behalf of itself, the ANC, the ANC Women’s League, the Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association and the Congress of Democratic Taxi Associations), to the Premier of the Western Cape demanding certain actions from the provincial government. The memorandum, according to SAPA, threatened that unless these demands were “positively responded to within seven workings days…the young people and the above-mentioned stakeholders will make this city and province ungovernable!”. ANCYL regional committee member, Loyiso Nkohla, was subsequently quoted as saying: “If the attitude [from the local and provincial governments] is positive then we will report that to the people but if it is not, we will shut this city down”. As a result, the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape provincial government laid criminal charges, in terms of the Intimidation Act 72 of 1982, against the ANCYL and other organisations involved in those threats.
The ANCYL’s calls to disrupt governance in Cape Town and the Western Cape were followed by renewed violence in Khayelitsha and Philippi, and by an incident in which two people were killed as a result of the stoning of a bus by protesters. More recently, ANCYL protesters disrupted a community meeting in Khayelitsha that was to be addressed by Patricia de Lille, the Executive Mayor of Cape Town. Following the failed meeting, the mayor cited the incident as an example of how the ANCYL was carrying out its threat to make the city ungovernable. The Western Cape ANCYL regional secretary, Mfuzo Zenzile, subsequently replied that making the province “ungovernable” did not amount to embarking on violence. His statement, nevertheless, continued to echo the ANCYL and Nkohla’s call to make the province ungovernable – whether through violence or otherwise.
These latest statements by the ANCYL, as well as their continuous militant talk (such as a statement by ANCYL deputy president, Ronald Lamola, calling for “an act as forceful as war to bring it [land] back to the Africans”), are not only disquieting, but also raise some worrying questions: Do these threats reflect the ANC’s tacit approval of the actions proposed by the ANCYL?; alternatively, has the ANC leadership lost control of factions within its movement?; or even worse, has the ANC lost control over such factions, but still tacitly supports some of their actions because they are in the ANC’s strategic interest? The ANCYL’s campaign to make the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape ungovernable resonates with the threat made on 1 July by the ANC’s Western Cape leader, Marius Fransman, that: “If the DA government of today does not want to engage with the community directly, then we must revert to the same tactics that made the “kragdadige” apartheid government listen to us by ensuring united community mass action in defence of our rights.”
The ANC’s failure to reprimand the ANCYL for its calls for the destabilisation of a province inevitably raises the question of whether the ANC tacitly supports such statements and threats. According to ANC chief whip in Cape Town, Xolani Sotashe, the ANC does not associate with “anarchy”. If so, why do they not reprimand the ANCYL when it makes statements to the contrary? It is interesting to note that the ANC was quick to instruct ANCYL Limpopo chairman, Rudzani Ludere, to withdraw his recent calls to disrupt, and throw stones at, the Limpopo provincial government. ANC Limpopo secretary, Soviet Lekganyane, said that Ludere’s statements “were harmful not only to the person against whom they are made; but they also bring the organisation into disrepute and are dangerous to the unity and cohesion of the movement”. It thus appears that the ANC does not hesitate to insist on “unity and cohesion” and to reprimand its members when they threaten to disrupt ANC-controlled provinces.
Secondly, if the ANC has indeed lost control over factions within the movement, it would raise serious questions over its own integrity and cohesion as a ruling party. A recent research report by The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation and Wits University entitled, The Smoke That Calls, concluded that active and high-profile ANC members are almost certainly playing a leading role in at least some of the protest hotspots in Gauteng and Mapumalanga, often involving violence. With reference to the violence in Cape Town, ANC chief whip Sotashe was most recently quoted as saying that “[w]e have picked up some SMSes that…suggest the Youth League met and organised the violence, but we have established that it was not [them]”. Instead, he insists that a “third force” must be blamed for “destabilising certain areas, exploiting poor people for their own agendas”. Despite a denial by the ANC and the South African Police Service (SAPS) interim announcement that they have not yet found any link between the violence and the ANCYL, obvious facts and inferences raise a disturbing possibility that rogue factions within the ruling party might be using service delivery protests to pursue their own agendas.
Finally, whether or not the ANCYL in the Western Cape has been acting with the ANC’s approval, the organisation may have concluded that the actions of the ANCYL will, in any event, promote its own strategic goal of winning back the province. The ability to achieve its strategic goals though a situation of plausible deniability and without being held responsible for the actions of the ANCYL, would arguably be the best outcome for the ANC.
The thread running through all of these questions is whether the ANC is after all willing and able to govern within the confines of the rule of law and a constitutional democracy? The recent statements and behaviour of the ANCYL in the Western Cape, viewed together with recent inflammatory remarks by ANC Western Cape provincial leader, Marius Fransman, leads to the conclusion that the latest surge of violence, especially in Khayelitsha, was almost certainly not coincidental. It is obviously possible that some protests may well be related to service delivery concerns. However, calling for the disruption of a democratically elected government and promoting actions, often involving violence, that are aimed at making any part of South Africa ungovernable, is unconstitutional, undemocratic and almost certainly illegal. Apart from criminal charges of intimidation already laid against the ANCYL, their statements and actions may very well be treading a thin line between rhetoric and sedition – the latter defined by the SAPS as “unlawfully and intentionally taking part in a concourse of people violently or by threats of violence challenging, defying or resisting the authority of the State; or causing such a concourse”.
Be that as it may, statements calling for any legitimately and democratically elected government within South Africa to be made “ungovernable”, are irreconcilable with constitutional democracy and should not be tolerated as acceptable political discourse in a democracy based on the rule of law. On the contrary, such statements should be condemned and denounced, as those involved are not only undermining fundamental principles of constitutional democracy – but are almost certainly also on the wrong side of the law.
Adv Johan Kruger
Centre for Constitutional Rights