Eastern Cape battles

Intense competition for votes in the ANC's heartland has renewed fears of violence as the election approaches.

There has never been any shortage of violence in the Eastern Cape. It can take the form of savage feuds between rival clans and villages (Pondoland); family rivalries exploited by Gauteng mines-based criminals and Mozambique gun runners (Tsolo and Qumbu); medieval style stock raids along the Transkei-Lesotho border; or on-going taxi wars (Idutywa, Mqanduli, Engcobo, Elliotdale, Bizana, Lusikisiki, Port St Johns, Umtata and East London). As the election draws near, there is widespread fear that straightforward political violence will be added to this list.

The tone was set by ANC provincial publicity secretary Mcebisi Bata when he told a rally in Zwelitsha in April last year that opposition parties would first have to seek the ANC’s “permission” before being “allowed to campaign in our areas”. Zwelitsha outside King William’s Town is a traditional ANC stronghold, but the United Democratic Movement (UDM) has being making inroads there. In February conflict between the two parties’ supporters resulted in razed homes. According to police one UDM supporter was beaten up and his home torched by ANC supporters. In the same month in nearby Breidbach both the UDM and Democratic Party reported that the ANC had intimidated their party election agents and ripped down their campaign posters.

In January just outside East London, the PAC made warlike noises when it intercepted a bakkie carrying the ANC’s anti-PAC propaganda pamphlet, Pan Africanist Congress of Azania: A Viable Alternative Or a Flat Spare Tyre?, which was destined for the Transkei. The PAC hijacked and seized the consignment after a tip-off and laid a formal complaint before the IEC.

In February a man was stabbed to death in East London’s Duncan Village shantyland, another militant ANC stronghold, during a fight between ANC and PAC youth supporters. Police preferred not to make the incident public or release his name for fear of increasing tension. The SANDF carried out a massive exercise in the streets and outlying districts of East London in March to prepare for possible election-day violence. The Independent Electoral Commission’s provincial head office in the city has been convening regular monthly meetings with all political parties to try to prevent violent conflict.

The PAC itself is riddled with divisions. A younger and more radical faction calling itself the Positive Action Council has won support in the Karoo and Border regions and has some 80 branches behind it. Although railing against the party’s old guard, it wants ageing Clarence Makwetu re-installed as president as he is perceived as more in touch with grassroots membership than Bishop Stanley Mogoba. In a disturbing development for the party in its most important province, the Positive Action Council announced at a memorial service in King William’s Town for assassinated UDM general secretary Sifiso Nkabinde that it would be campaigning for the UDM.

The PAC’s travails will no doubt complicate the work of peacekeepers, but the real election battle in the Eastern Cape is between the ANC and the UDM. This is especially so in the densely populated and largely rural Transkei with its strong tribal organisation and desperate need for land reform to attract investment. The chiefs, who are so important in the social structure, have shown an increasing loyalty of late to Holomisa notwithstanding a convenient salary hike announced by the government in April.

Open antagonism following Nkabinde’s murder has been most apparent in the Transkei’s capital Umtata and the sprawling shantytowns that surround it. They have been swollen by an influx of the jobless from closures and cutbacks on Gauteng mines. In February, in the weeks following Nkabinde’s murder, reporters spotted men toting automatic weapons patrolling outside the ANC’s Umtata offices and it was clear that the party was taking no chances.

So far antagonism has mainly been expressed in a poster war. Local ANC deputy chairman Mandla Makhupula has condemned what he called a systematic campaign to tear down ANC posters and replace them with UDM posters. He claimed in early February that 600 out of 1,000 posters had been torn down by UDM members in Umtata alone. The IEC, however, says it has received no complaints. Makhupula said he jotted down the registration number of a van carrying people who were seen tearing down ANC posters and replacing them with UDM banners and gave the information to the police. A man who removed a poster outside the old South African embassy complex was caught redhanded by the police and told them that he had no political allegiances and “had been sent to do it by people who do not like the ANC”. At the post office in Xhora, south of Umtata, a senior official ordered ANC posters removed, saying they were not permitted on post office walls, though the IEC says they can be placed anywhere except in its own offices and in registration and voting stations. Later the ANC banners were replaced by UDM ones.

Appealing to ANC supporters not to “take revenge” by reciprocating and to “maintain their political maturity and tolerance”, Makhupula said in a thinly veiled reference to the UDM, “some organisations have failed dismally to engage their members in political education.” Regional UDM spokesman Gogo Mabandla responded that “Umtata is a stronghold of the UDM, so there is no need for us to tear down any posters of a certain organisation, because we are in control.” The ANC was welcome to lay charges against the UDM and substantiate its allegations if it wished, he added.

At the Payne’s Farm informal settlement near Umtata, soldiers and police raided the home of Fuza Tshuta, in mid-March and seized four limpet mines, a dozen handgrenades and a number of R4 rifles — enough arms “to start a small war”. The area is notorious for car hijackings and Telkom cable theft and, in February, Telkom withdrew from it because of the frequent hijackings of its repair and maintenance vehicles. Payne’s Farm is a UDM stronghold that has been the scene of bloody, sporadic violence over the past three years. The ANC did its best to make political capital out of the arms find, though the UDM distanced itself from the find.

News reporters in the province agree this election will be an ugly one for journalists as well as politicians. Most newsrooms have made the wearing of bulletproof vests obligatory and insist on prior assurances from political parties of safe passage for reporters, especially those covering township election rallies. Because the media daily report social service breakdowns, crumbling infrastructure and rampant provincial government corruption, it has earned the wrath of the ANC and the provincial government. They frequently accuse the media of having an “anti-black agenda” and even of openly supporting the New National Party and Democratic Party opposition in the Bisho legislature. At the opening of parliament in February, Premier Makhenkesi Stofile made an unprecedented attack on the “blatantly racist” provincial media. In “attacking” the government by not highlighting its successes, the media was “anti-black”, charged Stofile, to delirious applause from the gallery. His speech shocked the media and political observers, among them representatives of the British High Commission, and bodes ill for the election run-up.