ANC supporters in the Edendale (Pietermaritzburg) and Muden areas allege that meetings they held on Sunday 15 March 2009 were disrupted by large groups of IFP supporters, leading to fears about their safety when campaigning in the run up to the April elections. It is important that these allegations be dealt with by the political leadership of the ANC and IFP. Since it is also alleged that the SAPS did not take adequate action against those causing the disruptions, SAPS management should also urgently address the question of providing adequate protection for those attending political meetings.
In Edendale, supporters of the ANC Youth League gathered at Naduma High School, Mpumuza Ward 1, having apparently received permission for the meeting from the local traditional leader. They claim that a small group of IFP supporters arrived and, when the police who were present did nothing to remove them – but merely asked the IFP councillor who was part of the group whether the meeting was legal – their numbers swelled. One of those present was a local councillor against whom a number of cases of intimidation have been opened in the past, and another was a man who had reportedly been sent for paramilitary training at the Mlaba camp in 2008. The IFP supporters then allegedly behaved in a generally threatening manner towards those in the hall, including by throwing intelezi (traditional medicine) into the crowd – a tactic which inspires fear, especially as it was one which accompanied high levels of violence in the area in the pre-1994 period.
When the SAPS warned that it was not safe for the ANC supporters to continue with their meeting, they moved out of the hall to a nearby venue. Police reinforcements subsequently arrived, possibly after the intervention of the provincial MEC for Community Safety and Liaison, who had apparently been called. The police formed a corridor between ANC and IFP. However, when the ANC supporters left the meeting to return to their homes they found that the main Mpumuza Road to Sweetwaters had been blocked by IFP supporters, and they had to use a side road.
It is also alleged that, in February, IFP supporters had attempted to stop ANC supporters from registering to vote, by blocking the Mabane Bridge (Sweetwaters) area. During the 2006 local government elections there were numerous similar complaints of disruption of meetings and intimidation in the Sweetwaters area.
In the incident in Muden, ANC supporters had held a meeting in the Nkanini area and, when they were dispersing, they were allegedly set on by a large group of IFP supporters wielding sticks. Four ANC supporters were reportedly hurt, but not badly enough to need medical attention. Cases have not been opened because victims fear that they will be targeted if they do so. It is alleged that although the police had been informed about the meeting no preventive action was taken. A local ANC councillor, Jeffrey Ngobese, who opened a case of intimidation against an IFP representative in June 2008, has since survived an apparent attempt on his life. Other ANC supporters in the area have reportedly been threatened and in November 2008 there was an attempt on the life of Thabsile Dladla of the Nhlangane area.
Following yesterday’s incident, the Muden area is very tense, with ANC supporters claiming that they are scared to engage in pre-election canvassing and campaigning.
Political leaders have pledged support for peaceful electioneering, so immediate action is demanded of them, with a view to preventing further similar incidents. SAPS management is responsible for ensuring that all such disruptions are dealt with by monitoring political gatherings and arresting and charging those responsible for life threatening disruptions.