Sustained intimidation and late- night appeals from party bosses stopped disgruntled ANC members from trying to shut down Luthuli House, the party’s national head office in the Johannesburg CBD this week.
Leaders of the #OccupyLuthuliHouse campaign said they feared for their lives and those of their supporters but defied appeals by senior party members to cancel their march.
Their campaign is aimed at getting President Jacob Zuma to quit as party leader and the entire membership of the party’s powerful national executive committee to resign.
The ANC beefed up security in anticipation of the rebellion, and police closed off streets and set up razor-wire barriers.
The UMkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association dispatched more than 100 members – some of them carrying firearms – to block the protesters.
Members of the ANC Youth League also turned up to defend the party headquarters.
Armed “veterans” repeatedly clashed with the media, forcibly removing journalists from pavements outside Luthuli House, and preventing photographers and video cameramen from taking pictures.
“You must voetsek. You people are scum, filth. F**king pigs, who must die. If you do this [recording] you will be sorry,” several veterans screamed at journalists.
You must voetsek. You people are scum, filth. F**king pigs, who must die. If you do this [recording] you will be sorr
Foreign journalists were pushed away from Luthuli House and told they were not welcome in South Africa.
“You are imperialists. F**k off back to your lands. You will leave here in coffins.”
Gauteng police spokesman Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said the police were unaware of weapons being brandished by veterans at the demonstration – although they would have been evident to anyone at the scene.
Newspapers have established that last-minute frantic calls by “senior ANC leaders” convinced the march organisers to scale down to prevent an ugly confrontation with Zuma supporters.
Earlier in the day the organisers announced that they called on their supporters not to come because “we are aware that self-proclaimed defenders of Luthuli House have the aid of state machinery to cause disruptions”.
“If we also came with more numbers, it would have been bloody; it would have been very ugly,” said Ronald Lamola, former ANC Youth League deputy president.
He said the group was now lobbying other ANC leaders and structures to make a public call for Zuma and the entire national executive committee to resign and hold an early conference.
But he would not be drawn on the leaders who called them to scale down the march.
Another organiser, who wished not to be named, said concerns were raised by Luthuli House that the MKMVA and ANCYL had taken positions that could lead to violent clashes.
“They were worried that the general public would join in and this would lead to a bigger protest,” a march organiser said. “We did not want to stop the march so we compromised and scaled it down.”
Veterans’ association chairman Kebby Maphatsoe had to intervene and order his members to allow ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe to take delivery of the marchers’ memorandum of demands.
Maphatsoe said: “No one must be allowed to come to Luthuli House with petty issues that can be addressed at branch level.”
Inside Luthuli House there was shouting and screaming in what seemed to be a stormy confrontation between those who wanted to allow the marchers to present their memorandum and those who supported the veterans’ attempts to block the marchers.
ANCYL sources told The Times they were upset by the veterans’ attempts to stop Mantashe accepting the memorandum.
“We should have taken the higher ground. Those who were behind the #OccupyLuthuliHouse left on the higher ground. They were peaceful. All these old men wanted to do was fight wars they never got to finish.”
Meanwhile, police deployed members of the presidential protection unit to monitor the protest, which a senior police source described as “mysterious”.
“The PPU is a highly specialised unit which does not operate with crowd control weapons. They do not undergo crowd control management. Questions need to be asked why they were there when the president is in China for the G20 summit. The deputy president, who they are also tasked with protecting, was also not there so why were they there?” the source said.
Gauteng police spokesman Colonel Lungelo Dlamini, asked why the Presidential Protection Unit had been deployed when Zuma was in China, said: “Any unit may be deployed for any operation.”