October 10, 2008

ANC both peeved and reconciliatory over looming split

The new political formation planned by former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota is off to a rocky start with supporters at odds over whether to stay and fight from within the ANC.
The Mail & Guardian understands that disgruntled members who oppose a breakaway party want to convince ANC members to pass a motion of no-confidence in ANC president Jacob Zuma, paving the way for a special party conference to elect new leaders. Many senior leaders do not want to be seen challenging the Zuma-led executive as this would compromise their political careers and business opportunities.

The rival tendency insists that a new party is needed to highlight the ANC’s faults and convince voters that the party has fundamentally moved away from the party they support.
“The aim is to protect current ANC policies and the country’s Constitution from being tampered with,” an organiser said.

Conflicting perspectives began emerging after the dramatic announcement by Lekota and other leaders on Wednesday that they are ready to head a new party to challenge the ANC in next year’s elections. Lekota said that if he did not receive an answer to his open letter to the ANC leadership last week, in which he attacked the party’s betrayal of its founding principles, he would convene a national convention to decide on whether to launch a new formation.

Although they would not come out publicly, the M&G was told that some Cabinet ministers and ANC national executive committee (NEC) members are part of the plan to form a new party.

Before, the Business Day reported that even as the African National Congress (ANC) intensified efforts to eradicate what appears to be an irreversible split, party president Jacob Zuma said there was a limit to which aggrieved members could use ANC structures to destabilise the party. Zuma was addressing the Black Management Forum (BMF) at ANC headquarters as former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota announced plans for a national convention that will decide on the formation of an ANC splinter party.
Lekota had before complained about tribalism in the ANC and said the leadership had failed to crack down on supporters singing songs calling for violence. It had also attacked judges as "counter revolutionary" because of judgments unfavourable to Zuma. While denying that he and other supporters of ousted president Thabo Mbeki would form a new party, he said: "This is probably the parting of the ways, it probably is. We hope that sense may still prevail in us ... If not there's no going back." Flanked by another ANC dissident, former deputy defence minister Mluleki George, he said: "Logically it seems that this is the end of it."
Lekota and George are the public faces of the initiative, which will culminate in a national convention in the next few weeks. They are loyal to Mbeki and believe that Zuma has veered "away from the ANC's policies".

While Lekota was short on the details of the new party, sources close to the initiative said that plans were at an "advanced stage". "There is big money behind us, we are working in the provinces, talking to the unions and other opposition parties," a source said. It is understood that former Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa, Limpopo premier Sello Moloto and former South African Congress of Trade Unions president Willie Madisha will be key figures in the new party. George said meetings would be held in Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and Western Cape -which was where they feel they had a chance of winning support - over the next few days.

In the meantime, ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa told the visiting BMF leaders the ANC was in the "middle of a process of internal consultation" with its entire membership, but denied that the party's reaction to an imminent split had not been fast enough. "We've been camping in every province every Monday," he said. In a conciliatory tone in sharp contrast to the party's reaction to Lekota's first of two letters of complaint, Phosa spoke of unity. He said the ANC would desist from mudslinging and instead show "far-sightedness" and "maturity". "An effort that is informed by anger and emotions is not part of our agenda," he said, revealing that he was due to meet Lekota today. "We don't believe that the marriage is irretrievably broken down," Phosa said. He sought to paint the schism in the ANC as routine for such a movement. "We don't resign from parties because there is a heated issue. I personally went through a rough time in the movement at some point; I never resigned."
However, Phosa also ruled out disciplinary action or expulsion for Lekota. "We don't think you solve political problems by disciplinary action but by discussion," he said. Asked if he still thought the ANC's ousting of former president Thabo Mbeki last month was the right decision, Phosa said: "It was the correct decision; we'd not have taken it if we didn't think it was correct." The ANC still had respect for Mbeki, whom it was roping in for its election campaign.

Phosa also deflected Lekota's criticism around the party's handling of ANC Youth League president Julius Malema's much-cited utterances. "You don't grow a cadre by engaging in mudslinging in public ... it doesn't serve the interests of the ANC at all," he said. BMF president Jimmy Manyi said the organisation's engagement with the ANC leadership was meant to pave the way for the kind of relationship it had enjoyed with the Mbeki administration. (Mail & Guardian / Business Day, Johannesburg)

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