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Fist fights broke out, chairs were hurled around and blood flowed when about 300 youth league members disrupted a memorial lecture Zuma was delivering in a packed Good Hope Centre in Cape Town.
Police had to intervene and said last night that two people were arrested on provisional assault charges.
In an indication of the street fighting that the youth league’s opposition to Zuma’s re-election as party leader at the end of the year may degenerate into, they booed Zuma and tried to drown him out with their shouting.
“Zuma, where is Julius Malema? We are incomplete without him,” the group sang periodically.
Youth league members started becoming disruptive a short time after the start of Zuma’s speech, running around and toyi-toyiing.
A young man wearing a youth league lapel badge, but who did not want to give his name, said: “I am quite ashamed of these people. I’m inclined to hide my badge.”
He removed the badge and put it in his pocket.
Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel, provincial ANC secretary Songezo Mjongile and Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu tried unsuccessfully to calm the situation.
Church leaders also tried to intervene, but even they failed.
Soon after their unsuccessful efforts several chairs were hurled around, fist fights broke out, and an SABC cameraman, Rudi le Roux, was assaulted by the group. Blood trickled down his face.
ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete turned to Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, who immediately started making calls on his cellphone.
In the middle of Zuma’s speech former provincial premier Peter Marais, who was attending at the invitation of the Western Cape ANC, stormed from the building.
Marais told our sister paper Die Burger: “If the ANC does not respect its leaders, how can I stay here any longer?
“They also showed contempt for the national anthem by not singing it in full. It is a shame.
“The youth behaved themselves extremely shamefully today.”
Zuma remained calm throughout the hour-long lecture, then had harsh words for the “undisciplined” members of the crowd after his speech.
“They have shown who they really are. There are those who are ANC people and then there are those who say they are ANC people. Leaders have always had respect for such occasions. The discipline and values of the ANC must be brought back.”
Provincial ANC leader Marius Fransman said the party had received reports before the event that certain people wanted to disrupt it.
“We decided to go ahead because we have to be strong for the ANC. We will watch the tapes and if anyone can be identified we will take action.”
After his speech Zuma apologised to TV viewers and the guests.
Dr Allan Boesak said he was proud of the way Zuma had handled the disruption.
National ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said disciplinary steps could be taken, as such behaviour in not permitted in the ANC.
Youth league members stood around outside the centre afterwards. “Now we’ve shown them what anarchy is,” one of them said.
Sabelo Ndlangisa of City Press reported that at an Numsa congress in Johannesburg earlier in the day, Zuma had criticised the youth league, saying its predecessors always lobbied support within the ANC and never publicly attacked its leadership.
He said the ANC established the youth league as it believed that it would bring militancy to the party, but qualified that by saying the league was meant to use its energy for the ANC.
“It’s not a youth league which is out there as a spare wheel of the ANC. It is an integral part of the ANC.
“That’s why its constitution must be informed by the ANC constitution … its activities must be subordinate to the ANC activities,” he said.
He said the “militancy” of the earlier generation of youth leaders did not include swearing at the ANC leaders or singing songs about them.