The ANC’s top leadership has been meeting with its branches in an attempt to grapple with weeks of violence against foreign nationals as well as the growing cases of femicide in the country.
This week, the party’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, made stops in the Eastern Cape and is set to visit KwaZulu-Natal, while on Sunday, he took part in a meeting with branch leaders from Johannesburg.
The national executive committee (NEC), which is the ANC’s highest decision-making structure in between conferences, spent the weekend meeting leaders in other regions around Gauteng.
While the meeting is said to have ended on a positive note, Ramaphosa’s apology to Zimbabweans and a decision to send out government envoys to apologise and explain the spate of violence targeted at migrants in the country were brought into sharp focus.
On Saturday, the ANC president, who is also the country’s head of state, received a hostile reception from Zimbabweans who attended the memorial service of former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe.
Ramaphosa was jeered and booed as he stepped to the podium but managed to win over the Zimbabweans when he said the violence in his country was “regrettable” and offered an apology.
“People didn’t agree with Cyril, this thing of condemning our people as if they started erupting violence from nowhere is not right,” said a zonal secretary who agreed to speak to News24 on condition of anonymity.
He is one of a handful of party members who attended the event and shared their views with News24.
“Any form of violence is wrong, but we must not move away from the causes,” added the zonal leader.
The insider said it was not fair to overlook that the majority of those killed during the violence were South African citizens who were likely killed with illegal weapons.
“You cannot simply prioritise outsiders at the expense of South Africans,” an ANC branch chairperson, who seemed to agree with the first source, told News24.
The branch leader said the apology was not “necessary”, emphasising that South Africans were also caught in the violence and shops owned by locals were also looted.
“It was not xenophobic, mostly South Africans were killed. There are greater issues for us to deal with as a country,” said the ANC member.
According to those at the five-hour meeting, concerns raised over the “blatant” trading of drugs, involvement of some law enforcement officials and inability to end the scourge by the ANC-led government preoccupied most branch leaders.
Members of the NEC were led by Ramaphosa, four members of the top six as well as both provincial and regional leaders.
“People complained of seeing drugs being sold by foreign nationals, confiscating those drugs and handing over the suspect and evidence to law enforcement and then seeing that very same person free and dealing the following day,” said one party member who attended the Sunday meeting.
One branch secretary criticised the party for only seeking to meet with branches when there was a crisis.
“They are reactionary, the whole NEC is not proactive so when these opportunities arise you find people raising their own issues and it becomes a futile exercise because leadership is not giving direction,” complained the branch secretary.
The secretary, who said the meeting was meant to assess the state of the country regarding femicide cases and looting, claimed it became heated as members discussed what posture or role the party could play.
“Some felt Cyril was imposing his views on members to say the illegal migrants should just be documented. They heckled the president. They didn’t agree with him,” said the secretary who added that the complaints were over already stretched resources.
One the of NEC members, Dakota Legoete, admitted there was some tension.
He told News24 the meeting raised concerns about migration laws, inaction on the part of the government, saying it was also not doing enough to protect the borders and enforce the country’s labour laws especially in the hospitality, mining and construction sectors.
“Branches accepted that we’ve had a problem of drugs but that it has now reached catastrophic levels and can wipe out a generation,” said Legoete.
He admitted that not all members were “comfortable” with measures suggested by ANC leaders to address some of these challenges, singling out the idea to give legal status papers to undocumented foreigners.
“They strongly said they must be deported, it’s a matter to be taken back to the authorities to deal with,” said Legoete, adding the country observed international conventions that called on citizens to not leave their own borders without proper documentation nor to arrive in another country without proper documents.
“And people must do what their permits say they will do … if its studying then why would you be involved in the selling of drugs?”
“Some structures were not impressed with the attack on the police by our brothers, saying it’s undermining [the police’s] authority and setting us up against each other in the future,” he said in reaction to those who said the spate of violence followed footage that was circulating on social media where foreign nationals chased the police and Johannesburg Metro Police Department officers out of the CBD in August.
Legoete said even Ramaphosa’s apology and the decision to send envoys to different parts of the continent to explain the situation and share plans with other leaders of how the country would resolve the impasse, were misunderstood to mean South Africa looked weak.
“But it’s in the interest of the country, it’s in the interest of the continent for us to work together. For us to survive as a country we need other countries on the continent to support us.
“The meeting ended with the apology being accepted,” said Legoete.