Once upon a time, in the mid-1980s, the former Kangwane Bantustan was one of the areas that witnessed political unrests. The name of one Ngrayi Ngwenya, also got some mention. Not because of the role he played in the struggle, but because, while all other activists were being arrested, he was never arrested.
Ngwenya continued with his schooling, uninterrupted while other activists were in hiding.
When the ANC and other political organisations were unbanned in 1990, Ngwenya joined the National Party – the party that invented the apartheid policies.
Ngwenya vehemently campaigned against the ANC, the very organisation that many thought he had supported.
Few people, however, know who the real Ngrayi Ngwenya is.
Some of the people who grew up with him revealed to Ziwaphi that Ngwenya’s family was unceremoniously forced by the community to leave Louisville near Barberton before they settled in Nkomazi.
It was here that Ngwenya joined the National Party youth organisation called, Onderberg. This was the organisation that formed part of the “total onslaught”. The “total onslaught” strategy was premised on the apartheid propaganda strategy which proclaimed that South Africa was under attack from communists, and therefore the regime was justified to use maximum and lethal forces (counter “total onslaught”) against the South African Communist Party and ANC.
As part of the strategy, however, was the “winning the hearts and minds” (WHAM). This part of the strategy was aimed at promoting rightwing ideology among the population to counter the popularity of the SACP and ANC in the townships.
The apartheid regime, among others, targeted the youth by taking them to camps where they would brainwash them to hate the SACP and ANC.
Part of the programmes of the Onderberg organisation was to implement extensive training programmes to train “loyal leaders” and youth.
One of their popular spot was a place called Laughing Waters in a farm called Kaalrug in Nkomazi.
Thus, when many comrades were questioning how Ngwenya managed to stay out of prison, his fellow members of the Onderberg were not surprised because he was part of the National Party government by that time already.
Ngwenya, according to a source, was active in his community, mobilising the youth and the community to identify and uproot people suspected of being witches in the township.
“He organised community meetings and collected money so that they can go to traditional sangomas for checking if the suspects were involved in witchcraft, without proof or evidence.”
“He was alwasys taking the law into his hand by mobilising those who were supporting him,” said the source.
While our source could not confirm Ngwenya’s link, but he claims that it was during this time that a person suspected of a house breaking crime and physically threatening a woman was killed. His name was called John “Mfene” Nkuna.
When the ANC was unbanned, it came as no surprise to many when Ngwenya mobilised the community of Shongwe village to support the party of apartheid against the ANC. Thus, Ngwenya is arguably the only leader of the ANC who openly campaigned against Mandela, but, the Nkomazi community rejected the National Party. Little did they know that he would come back to tell them about the same organisation that he was telling them not to vote for.
It was back to the drawing board for him. He became liphoyisa lemmnango a traditional court policeman. His job was to apprehend alleged offenders for prosecution by a traditional chiefs.
This made him so popular with the crime-weary community, that some ANC leaders recruited him to the ANC.
This gave Ngwenya a political lifeline that he used to the maximum.
Government departments were the first to feel his wrath, because they were all required to give businesses to local companies, otherwise they’d be chased out of Nkomazi.
This made him rich and untouchable. To many it’s still a mystery how he stayed out of prison after he had been accused of assaulting a number of people.
In 2009 he was accused of being one of the ANC leaders who were disrupting meetings of the Congress of The People (COPE) in Nkomazi.
Ngwenya, however, also had victims within his own organisation: ANC parliamentarian and ANCYL leader Shelly Makhubela opened an assault case against him, but like many other cases opened against him, it disappeared.
Makhubela threatened this journalist with legal action when contacted for an interview.
Former spokesperson of the ANCYL Hamzer Ngwenya also had a case of alleged assault against him.
In 2011, however, ANC leader Collen Sedibe opened a criminal case against Ngwenya. ANC leaders tried to get Sedibe to drop the charges, but he refused and Ngwenya was convicted.
Prosecutor, Victoria Nkuna, argued, unsuccessfully for Ngwenya to be given a harsher sentence because of four previous convictions of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm.
“The accused has four previous convictions of the same offence, I’m asking this court to hand him a harsher sentence,” said Nkuna at the time.
The magistrate, however, slapped Ngwenya with a mere R1000 fine and a suspended sentence for five years.
In 2016, during the State of the Province Address by former premier David Mabuza, the Economic Freedom Fighters opened a case against Ngwenya after he and others allegedly stabbed EFF member.
The case collapsed when the EFF member joined the ANC and withdrew the case against Ngwenya.
In the buildup to the ANC’s 54th national conference in 2017, Ngwenya’s name and that of former ANC MP, Mvuselelo Magagula, were again in the media headlines for the alleged assault of Cyprian Mooca, an ANC activist from Kaapmuiden.
In June 2018, ANC member, Steps Makamo opened an assault case against Ngwenya following another ANC meeting at Kamhlushwa in Nkomazi.
Ngwenya has always been receiving protection from the leaders in the province.
Following Ngwenya’s conviction, deputy president, David Mabuza said that the ANC would not take any action against him and instead condemned the court findings.
Ngwenya has also been accused, in the past, of bussing people from his branch to ANC branch general meetings in other wards.
These allegations, however, have yet to be tested, but the chances for doing so have always been remote, given the protection that he has been enjoying under Mabuza leadership.
On July 17, however, it appears that Ngwenya got more than he had bargained for when he allegedly assaulted ANC acting provincial secretary and Mpumalanga’s MEC for for culture, sports and recreation, Lindiwe Ntshalintshali.
They were objecting to the National Executive Committee (NEC) decision to dissolve Ehlanzeni and Bohlabela regions and establish a single region.
The NEC suspended his ANC membership.
There was no Mabuza to protect him this time and for the first time he was on his own against the ANC.
And at Luthuli House there is a new sheriff, Ace Magashule, who doesn not seem to be turning a blind eye to Ngwenya’s escapades.
After all, Ngwenya had never contributed to Magashule’s election, so he has no reason to protect him.
Since then, the entire Ehlanzeni regional executive committee has been holding meetings to mobilise members against the NEC decision.
Last month, a video emerged on social media showing Ngwenya and his lieutenants walking towards Luthuli House to protest against his suspension.
“The ordinary PEC (will sit) in the not so distant future, and discuss all matters affecting the ANC which happened post the previous PEC meeting like the allegations you are leveling of comrades who are discrediting the RET if such has ever happened and definitely receive reports on the many issues you are enquiring about. Once that PEC has sat, we will surely bring members of the ANC and the community at large into confidence,” said ANC provincial spokesperson.
Earlier, Sasekani Manzini, said the PEC had not suspended Ngwenya.
“The PEC has not suspended anyone and concerning any other matter we are still awaiting a formal report that will be discussed in the PEC Meeting,” she said.
“We will then communicate after the PEC,” she added.
Manzini’s response seemed to have caused confusion within the media fraternity, when a local newspaper published a screaming headline, “African National Congress says Ngrayi Ngwenya is not suspended” – this is believed to have been a counter to a story that an independent community owned Mpumalanga online network broke earlier in the week.
Soon after the denial, however, a letter purporting to be from the ANC’s Secretary-General, Ace Magashule started circulating on social media.
“The National Executive Committee at its 4 day meeting, which ended today, resolved that in addition to criminal proceedings and disciplinary action being instituted against you, that it invoke its powers in terms of Rule 25.56 to summarily suspend your membership with immediate effect without eliciting a response or comment from you before imposing this immediate suspension,” reads the letter dated 29 July 2019.
While the above contents were extracted from a letter purported to be addressed to Phindile Nkuna who is the organisation’s regional treasurer, it is believed that Ngwenya was served with a similar letter.
It appears, however, that Ngwenya will not go down without a fight. Last month, the ANC Tonga branch launched a “Hands Off Ngrayi” campaign in his support.
Meanwhile Ntshalintshali has confirmed that she has opened a case against Ngwenya, but she declined to discuss about Ngwenya’s suspension.
SAPS provincial spokesperson, Brig. Leonard Hlathi also confirmed that Ntshalintshali has opened a case, but did not name the suspect.
“I can only confirm that MEC Lindiwe Ntshalintshali has registered a case of assault but against who, is subject of an investigation at this point. We do not mention names of people before they are arrested. The action that we took was to open the case and dully investigate it, and it’s exactly what we are doing currently,” said Hlathi on Sunday.
Hlathi also confirmed that the police have also opened a case against an unnamed suspect, in connection with an incident that happened at Nutting House.
Nutting House was the scene where the alleged assault of Ntshalintshali and a policeman took place.