Free State PEC ruled unlawful due to irregularities

18 December 2012 - 17:02 By Sapa
PARTY STRUCTURE: An ANC logo on a wall in downtown Bloemfontein this week ahead of the elective conference
PARTY STRUCTURE: An ANC logo on a wall in downtown Bloemfontein this week ahead of the elective conference
Image: The Times

Irregularities at the ANC's Free State provincial elective conference earlier this year, have resulted in the conference and its decisions being declared unlawful by the Constitutional Court.

The court was giving reasons for its judgment on Friday, upholding an appeal by ANC member Mpho Ramakatsa and five others.

"Following a careful consideration of the matter, we are satisfied that the established facts sustain the first two grounds on which the appellants rely," said Deputy Chief Justice Moseneke and Judge Jafta in their majority judgment.

"This, in our view, entitles them to some remedy."

The group contended they had been prevented from participating in the activities of a political party of their choice, in violation of their Constitutional rights.

They were appealing an earlier decision by the Bloemfontein High Court to dismiss the case.

The majority of judges hearing the case found Ramakatsa and his fellow appellants proved irregularities in the preparation process leading up to the provincial conference.

Delegates participated in the provincial conference but had not been mandated or elected at a properly constituted branch general meeting.

Membership numbers were manipulated in specific branches, enabling them to send more delegates than they would be entitled to.

Bona fide delegates who had been properly elected were excluded.

Parallel structures had been established, with delegates from parallel branches participating in the provincial conference.

The party leadership failed to allow branches an opportunity to query findings of a membership audit, in breach of audit guidelines.

ANC branches legitimately nominated members for the provincial leadership, but these nominations were not recognised.

In response, the ANC said the irregularities reported to the party's secretary general, Gwede Mantashe, were resolved before the provincial conference.

"In the second instance, the secretary-general contends that the irregularities that had not been raised with him before are disputed," Moseneke and Jafta said.

Mantashe and the PEC denied the provincial conference had been tainted by any illegality or breach of the ANC's constitution.

They denied that any unauthorised delegates attended the conference and that any legitimate delegates were excluded.

"These particular bare denials of the respondents do not rise to the level of disputes of fact," the majority of the judges said.

The denials were generic, directed at disputing the claim that the provincial conference was tainted.

The irregularities constituted a violation of the ANC's constitution and membership audit guidelines.

"No explanation or justification was furnished for these serious breaches which adversely affected members of the party," the majority of the court said.

"The affected members are therefore entitled to appropriate relief."

In the Moses Mabhida branch, ten members were prevented from participating in a branch meeting, while the Joyce Boom branch was excluded from the conference.

This established conduct that was inconsistent with the Constitution.

In turn, this obliged the court to declare the ANC's conduct invalid, as no justification had been given.

The provincial elective conference and the decisions taken at it were declared unlawful and void.

This order did not affect delegates elected at properly constituted branch general meetings of the Free State province.

The court declined to award costs.

Judge Johan Froneman, in a dissenting judgment, held that although the matter raised a constitutional issue, it was not in the interest of justice to grant leave to appeal.

In his view the appeal could have been directed to the Full Court of the High Court, or the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Froneman found the appellants failed to prove the ANC had failed to resolve their grievances.

The ANC's 53rd national conference is currently underway in Mangaung, with new leaders elected earlier on Tuesday.

At court, Ramakatsa's group wore t-shirts bearing the names of candidates they wanted nominated at the Mangaung conference.

They were: Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe for president, Mathews Phosa for deputy, Fikile Mbalula for secretary-general, Thenjiwe Mtintso for deputy secretary-general, Thandi Modise for chairwoman, and Tokyo Sexwale for treasurer general.

The PEC declared invalid by the court had selected President Jacob Zuma for a second term as party president, with no votes for Motlanthe.

The ANC reran its provincial elective conferences in Limpopo and the Western Cape after they collapsed.