A bloody clash between opposing structures that resulted in injuries and the institution of criminal charges on Monday, signifies an evidently greater brewing political war that is being fought on the streets of Polokwane.
Monday’s occurrences follow a series of reported interventions steered by the Radical Economic Transformation Forum (RETF), a formation that was established in August last year and has a foothold in Limpopo and Free State. Its members are seemingly using platforms of government and self-imposed measures to raise discontent over the awarding of tenders in the province and local businesspeople and labourers allegedly not benefitting from contracts or tenders in their area.
As the deafening voices of discontent are progressively drawing attention to their anti-corruption message, political players are seemingly being engaged in the bigger battle.
Initially there was the reported disruption of a meeting of the Department of Cooperative Governance, Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs (Coghsta) by RETF members at a Polokwane lodge towards the end of last month, then the interruption of an Integrated Development Plan (IDP)/budget consultation meeting of Polokwane Municipality at Jack Botes hall last Thursday evening. On Saturday evening the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in Limpopo lashed out with a media statement on the RETF’s perceived harassment of black businesspeople in the city on Friday. A day and a half later came the explosive noon showdown on a sidewalk in front of a posh hotel in the central business district (CBD).
Monday’s meeting of members of the RETF with stakeholders on the issue of empowering local contractors held at the hotel was reportedly interrupted by a group referred to as “blood hungry hooligans”. Sources and images of the occurrences pinpointed EFF Provincial Secretary Jossey Buthane to have barged in with reinforcements.
Attempted murder, assault charges registered
In no uncertain terms the RETF made it clear in a statement issued by its chairperson’s office, that it would ensure Buthane faced the full wrath of the law. After the incident that reportedly led to the injury of a local councillor and two of their members, charges of attempted murder, one of assault and two of assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm were registered.
Apparently it is not the end of the bloodshed as sources raised alarm about RETF members allegedly planning revenge against their opponents.
Clips forwarded from different corners depict persons identified as EFF supporters in red T-shirts assaulting members of the RETF, being kicked and beaten by attackers armed with clubs and pick axe handles. Buthane is visible in more than one of the videos relating to the incident.
After the alleged encounter Polokwane Observer met and photographed Buthane in Hans van Rensburg Street behind the hotel as he led a group of predominantly male supporters armed with pick axe handles and clubs, some aggressively enquiring why photos were being taken. They made their way down the one-way in Marshall Street seemingly on their way back to the EFF provincial headquarters.
Contradicting versions of events
Buthane’s version of the preceding happenings starkly contradicted that of RETF Chairperson Johz Mamabolo. Buthane said they had taken a decision to peacefully patrol the streets of Polokwane up until they got a tip about the closing of an office in Schoeman Street, only to find that the RETF was having a meeting there. According to him the fight started when RETF members exited the hotel and started shouting insults. When they wanted to leave there was an exchange of words and a stone hit a councillor, whose full details he didn’t have. He added that he had taken his own vehicle to take the injured councillor to hospital.
He referred to RETF members closing businesses of black South Africans without explanation in Polokwane on Friday, apparently in the name of empowerment of the youth and locals. Buthane reiterated that the EFF didn’t have a problem with the RETF, only when they targeted individual businesspeople.
During Monday’s telephonic conversation, as additionally set out in EFF Limpopo’s statement issued on Saturday, he named ruling party leaders forming and funding the RETF to deal with their competitors.
On Monday afternoon Mamabolo explained the RETF was engaging Polokwane Municipality on the issue of contracts and tenders having to benefit local contractors, which was the purpose of the meeting with stakeholders on Monday. He mentioned he had gone to Buthane’s office that morning, at a time when some 100 to 200 EFF supporters had gathered at the party’s provincial headquarters, and the two of them agreed that there was no fight between their forum and the EFF. Without further ado he proceeded to the meeting only to be informed at a later stage of the arrival of a convoy armed with knobkieries and new pick axe handles that started beating up municipal councillor Papas Moakamedi and four of their members.
According to him Nkadimeng had refused to meet with them twice after their first engagement two weeks ago. Mamabolo alleged that for their meeting to be interrupted Polokwane Executive Mayor Thembi Nkadimeng would have summoned Buthane, whom he said had gone inside the hotel at the time to beat up three of their members.
He emphasised the inclusion of local businesses in contracts awarded for projects in their area as the cause the RETF was fighting for, “because they have been excluded for a long time”. Mamabolo conceded that a political war had now been taken to the streets, adding that in all their interventions they had never been violent but just displayed their displeasure.
He said after a sit-in at the Coghsta MEC’s offices two Thursdays ago, which followed the initial disruption of the departmental meeting with entrepreneurs at the venue outside Polokwane, changes had subsequently been made to a clause contained in related RDP housing tender documents. Departmental feedback on the matter is still awaited.
He refuted allegations of the RETF closing down businesses on Friday and stated they had visited three sites of projects around Polokwane to request the contractors to comply with the law that dictates employment of 30% local labour force and sub-contractor inclusion.
Mamabolo emphasised that the allegations around their funding were unfounded. “They just want to derail our cause. We’re not aligned to any party.”
When following up further information with him yesterday (Wednesday) Mamabolo denied that the RETF’s members intended revenge against the EFF, saying that they were going to concentrate on their core mandate and mission of unlocking opportunities for local companies. Neither would they pursue the EFF, he added in conclusion. “Mr Buthane’s fight is not an EFF fight.”
Victim recalls attack
Moakamedi, who is the Chairperson of Polokwane Council’s Rules and Ethics Committee and was reportedly among those assaulted outside the hotel where he was supposed to attend the meeting with the RETF and other stakeholders, said he had lost consciousness after being hit in the face, on the head and right ear with a club only to awake at a medical practice after the incident. He had later been informed that he was transported there by two EFF members, he said.
In relating what happened on Monday, he said he had gone back to his car that was parked on the pavement to collect his diary that he forgot. He explained that he had still left the hotel premises with Buthane, who couldn’t trace two RETF members whom he was looking for. When questioned by EFF members on the side walk whether he was one of the two men Buthane was looking for, Buthane declined and identified him, he said. When he had returned he was approached by four big men with sticks, whereupon one beat him in the face with a club, he recalled. He then lost consciousness.
Provincial Police’s feedback
Provincial Police spokesperson Moatshe Ngoepe confirmed three counts of assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm having been registered. No arrests have been made as yet.
Story, photos & video’s: YOLANDE NEL