Caitlin Ross and Siyabonga Kalipa
Western Cape COPE convener and former Community Safety MEC Leonard Ramatlakane has persisted with claims of political intimidation in the province, but this week withdrew a High Court application to have his VIP protection detail reinstated. The case made clear, however, that other state officials who resign to join COPE should not expect their state-sponsored VIP protection to be extended unless they can prove exceptional circumstances.
Ramatlakane, who resigned from the ANC in October and was given notice on November 18 that he would lose VIP protection he had held as a former MEC, made an application on Tuesday this week to the Cape High Court as “a matter of urgency”, saying he believed there continued to be a danger to his life due to findings of two threat assessments carried out previously.
He stated he believed there was a risk based on an anti-gang campaign he had launched as MEC and as a result of his involvement in COPE.
Ramatlakane’s attempt to retain his security detail comes amid concerns of heightened tensions in the run-up to elections, due later this year.
COPE officials countrywide have complained of intimidation and a number of COPE meetings have been disrupted, allegedly by ANC supporters.
One of the latest such incidents occurred in Mpumalanga on January 3 when it was reported that police had to be called in to restore order when alleged ANC members stormed the Samora Machel hall in Mbuzini where a COPE meeting was being held. A similar meeting in Ackonhoek was disrupted by alleged unruly and drunk ANC members.
And COPE’s second deputy president Lynda Odendaal said this week she feared for her safety. She was visiting a COPE supporter assaulted with a hammer by a group of alleged ANC supporters in the Free State.
But in his response to Ramatlakane’s application, Minister of Safety and Security Nathi Mthethwa disputed that the risk faced by Ramatlakane justified VIP protection.
In correspondence attached as part of court documents, Mthethwa pointed to the expensive precedent that would be set if Ramatlakane’s protection continued. Other former office bearers would use the precedent to demand protection at the expense of the fight against crime
The application was withdrawn when the legal representatives of both parties reached an agreement on the assurance of Mthethwa that there was no direct threat to Ramatlakane’s life, based on the findings of the most recent threat assessment, said Ramatlakane’s lawyer, Richard Brown.
If the COPE convener entered certain areas – “a list of about nine or ten” – local police would be notified and put on alert, said Brown, who could not name the areas.
Contacted for comment, Ramatlakane said he was still “worried and concerned” about the safety of all members of the party in the province.
“The atmosphere is hostile. We have seen the number of disruptions and cases of intimidation taking place directed at COPE members, leaders and volunteers. It is happening with no condemnation by the ruling party.”
He said members of the ANC “drive around in cars at night pointing out the houses of COPE members to people in their company”, particularly in Gugulethu. “I’m very worried about that. That’s hostile.”
Other incidents of intimidation, he said, occurred when members of the ANC arrived at COPE meetings, took photographs of the attendees, and left.
But Western Cape ANC chairperson Mcebisi Skwatsha dismissed Ramatlakane’s claims: “He must produce evidence of that. Why would we do that? We are not in the game of intimidating anyone.”
Skwatsha said Ramatlakane was desperate for publicity and the leadership of COPE. “He mustn’t accuse the ANC falsely,” he said.
Other COPE leaders in the province were less vocal on the issue of political intimidation.
COPE coordinator Mbulelo Ncedana said: “Intimidation has always been there and it is still around, but nothing serious has happened so far. Our members are intimidated verbally or through phone calls.”
And former ANC councilor Buyiswa Blaai, who resigned from the ANC last month, said: “I don’t get any intimidation from anyone and I will never get it because I know my democratic rights.”
Ramatlakane’s application comes as the Western Cape enters a year when the province is likely to be a key battleground in this year’s elections, with the newly-formed COPE going head to head with the ruling ANC.
COPE will have to overcome organisational, leadership and funding challenges if they are to topple the ANC, while the ANC has been damaged by leadership disputes.
“We will continue to go door to door, street by street, township by township…that is how we are going to take the election. Thousands of volunteers are starting work in all communities, black and white,” said Ramatlakane.
On suggestions that the ANC was on the back foot in the province, Skwatsha said: “The ANC is consolidating and working very hard privately and not publicity-seeking like COPE. We are putting ourselves in good stead to win.”
* Published in City Press, 11 January 2009.