#OccupyLuthuliHouse, #DefendLuthuliHouse and the protest no one really expected

It was meant to be a day where Luthuli House would potentially come under the occupation of a disgruntled group of ANC members calling for Zuma’s resignation. Instead, the ANC headquarters were successfully “defended” and the #OccupyLuthuliHouse movement left with more bruises from the MKMVA than anything else.

In the short walk from Luthuli House to Beyers Naude Square in the Johannesburg CBD, there was one resounding question as groups clad in ANC T-shirts passed by: Which ANC is this?

The #DefendLuthuliHouse group spent most of the day camped nearby Luthuli House, proudly singing Asinavalo as MKMVA members stood guarding the building, dressed to the nines in their camoflouage gear.
A short distance away, a growing group of #OccupyLuthuliHouse members waited, too nervous to get too close to the strong security presence at the ANC headquarters.

“It’s very saddening. It’s heartbreaking that the same ANC that we have served so diligently for so many years today decides that it will not listen to our cries,” Tlangi Mogale (28), a branch executive member in Pretoria and a member of the ANC Youth League, told the Mail & Guardian.

Mogale and others in the #OccupyLuthuliHouse group had made their demands clear since last week Friday when they first announced that they would be holding a demonstration outside the ANC headquarters. The demands include: President Jacob Zuma’s resignation, the resignation of the ANC national executive committee members, stalwarts forming a task team for a “consultative conference” to be held before December, the implementation of free education and the disbandment of the Fees Commission.

Speaking to the Mail & Guardian, Sasabona Manganye, one of the leaders of the group said that talks had begun at branch level after the ANC’s disappointing performance in the local government election. Once various members of different branches knew of each other’s dissatisfaction with the leadership of the party, they came together to form #OccupyLuthuliHouse.

The leaders of the group include Ronald Lamola, the former deputy president of the ANC Youth League and former Wits SRC president Mcebo Dlamini, who was active in the Fees Must Fall student movement. But Lamola’s youth league is not the same as the ANC Youth League currently headed by Collen Maine, the league’s president, who was adamant Luthuli House must be defended.

“We are not intimidating anybody. You can’t come to Luthuli House in your numbers and threaten to occupy and expect members of the ANC not to do anything about it,” Maine said.

“They need to defend their building, their organisation and their leadership.”

Maine went on to call the protest an “act of counter-revolution” and accused ANC stalwart Mathews Phosa of funding the group. Phosa has previously criticised the ANC leadership as being corrupt. Maine also said that real members of the ANC know to raise their concerns within the structures and was confident that #DefendLuthuliHouse had done an effective job of keeping everyone else out of Luthuli House.

“Those cowards are no longer coming, so we are proceeding with our daily activities. Even if they came, the only thing we are going to do is not allow them to occupy Luthuli House – peacefully so,” Maine said.

But Manganye said the ANC members inside #OccupyLuthuliHouse had attempted to engage with the organisation’s structures to no avail.

“We followed internal organisation processes, we did so just in April. Those processes were never taken seriously. That’s why today Jacob Zuma is still the president,” Mangyane told the Mail & Guardian.

But #OccupyLuthuliHouse had little momentum as they were overwhelmed by the numbers of #DefendLuthuliHouse supporters who stood firm. For most of the day, the people who called themselves the defenders of Luthuli House took up more space on the street, handed out T-shirts to get more people in their ranks, and spread themselves around public places near Luthuli House.

The police had barbed wire waiting just in case the “occupy” movement decided to pull a move, but it wasn’t necessary. For most of the day, #DefendLuthuliHouse didn’t have much defending to do either.

It seemed the only real threat for some of the MKMVA members was the ANC secretary general himself: they didn’t take kindly to Gwede Mantashe walking across the street to receive the #OccupyLuthuliHouse memorandum of demands.

Mantashe urged ANC members – in the pro-Zuma faction, that is – to not give too much attention to the occupy group, saying that without publicity they don’t really exist. A few moments before Mantashe arrived, members of #DefendLuthuliHouse had protested under a monument bearing the words “Democracy is dialogue”. Although Mantashe accepted their memorandum of demands, there’s a sting to the #OccupyLuthuliHouse movement because their mother organisation is refusing to treat them as legitimate and successfully thwarted any attempt at an occupation.

“They themselves deserve better than Jacob Zuma,” Manganye said.

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