ANC Free State chairman Ace Magashule. Picture: THE TIMES
ANC Free State chairman Ace Magashule. Picture: THE TIMES

THE Constitutional Court on Friday declared the Free State African National Congress (ANC) provincial elective conference unlawful and its contents and decisions invalid, two days ahead of the start of the party’s elective conference in Mangaung.

Delivering the judgment, Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke said: “This was a unanimous decision made by the majority of the court, having heard the appeal of the applicants. This appeal is upheld. The provincial elective conference of Free State was unlawful and its contents null and void.”

The ruling could have far-reaching consequences. Already, there are concerns that the credentials process at the elective gathering would be fraught with difficulty as pro-change provinces complain about flaws and possible manipulation of procedures in the run-up to the conference.

Friday’s judgment is likely to cause more uncertainty, particularly around the standing of delegates selected to attend the national conference from the Free State. The decisions of the province’s provincial executive committee (PEC) — elected at the provincial conference now declared invalid — could be called into question, including its handling of branch general meetings.

However, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said the Free State delegation to Mangaung would not be affected as the court did not rule on the delegation, though it would only provide reasons for the judgment on Tuesday.

“We are not going to manufacture what’s not said in the judgment,” he said.

Mr Mantashe added that the PEC had presided over the nomination processes, overseen by the electoral commission. The branch general meetings were overseen by the regional executive committees and not the PEC.

“The process leading up to that conference was overseen ... by the previous PEC,” he said.

Whether the PEC’s 20-strong Free State delegation will be affected will be discussed at a national executive committee meeting on Saturday. 

The legal team handling the case was headed by Adv Dali Mpofu — who was nominated to take up a position on the party’s national executive committee.

Court success

The appeal was brought by six Free State ANC members who wanted the African National Congress’s PEC dissolved. The committee is led by chairman Ace Magashule.

The members, led by Umkhonto we Sizwe military veteran Mpho Ramakatsa, claimed the provincial conference held in Parys in June was fraudulent because of a number of irregularities. These included the participation of delegates who had not been duly mandated, or elected at a properly constituted branch general meeting, and the manipulation of the membership numbers in specific branches, which enabled those branches to send more delegates than they would lawfully have been entitled to send.

The Constitutional Court became embroiled in the case after the Free State High Court refused to consider the merits of the application because of procedural defects and irregularities in the application.

In a judgment passed on October 26, but with reasons delivered on November 13, Judge Mojalefa Rampai said the six ANC members failed to specify, cite and join in their application the branch executive committees whom they accused of manipulating the lists of delegates to the provincial conference. The six then launched an urgent application before the Constitutional Court.

Implications for Mangaung

On Friday, Mr Ramakatsa welcomed the ruling, adding: “The president and secretary-general Gwede Mantashe decided to turn a blind eye on the challenges in the Free State, but today we have been vindicated.”

Contradicting Mr Mantashe’s comments on the ruling, he said the judgment meant the Free State would not take part in the national conference. “The judgment is clear ... no one from Free State will attend Mangaung. We are saying ANC members must stand up and challenge un-ANC tendencies.”

Another applicant, Majoro Mpuru, a branch chairman in the province, said: “The Free State delegation will have no role to play in Mangaung. This means there is justice in this country.”

Free State ANC secretary William Bulwane said the province was waiting to be briefed in full by its legal team and would consult the national leadership before commenting fully. On the implications for next week’s Mangaung conference, Mr Bulwane said the ANC would have to examine which processes fell under the PEC and which were the function of the national office before coming to any conclusions on the validity of procedures directly linked to the national conference.

The verdict also casts yet another shadow over President Jacob Zuma, who personally and publicly endorsed the veracity of the Free State conference in an address to the gathering held in Parys in June.

On Thursday, Mr Magashule, the Free State chairman, heaped praise on Mr Zuma, describing him as an “intellectual” and expressing confidence in his chances of being re-elected as ANC president during the upcoming national conference.

Mr Zuma is going to be challenged by his party and state deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe.

The pro-change group within the ANC would view the Free State court outcome as a victory, giving credence to their argument that procedures were bent to suit the incumbent.

‘They have expelled themselves’

Mr Mantashe said earlier on Friday, ahead of the court ruling, that ANC members who took the party to court expelled themselves.

“Those who take the ANC to court, they have expelled themselves,” he said.

Mr Mantashe said 16 cases had been brought against the ANC until now. The cases were usually driven by one lawyer, he added, and “that same advocate will be in the case of the North West, and people will say they are disgruntled”.  He did not name anyone.

The ANC had to rerun its Western Cape and Limpopo nominations conferences.

The party declared the North West nominations finalised even though some disputes had been raised and an ANC North West official was shot dead outside his house in Klerksdorp on Friday morning.

North West Premier Thandi Modise identified the victim as Obuti Chika, the party’s regional secretary.

With Natasha Marrian, Samuel Mungadze, Ernest Mabuza and Sapa