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ANC members threaten to break away, form new group

An ally of ex-President Mbeki accuses South Africa's ruling party of betraying democracy.

October 09, 2008|Robyn Dixon | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — A senior ally of ousted South African President Thabo Mbeki announced Wednesday that he and other unhappy members of the ruling African National Congress were "serving divorce papers" and, barring unexpected concessions, would form a new party.

Former ANC Chairman Mosiuoa Lekota accused the ruling party under its chief, Jacob Zuma, of betraying democracy and its own principles.

"He is the legitimate leader of the ANC," Lekota said. "Nevertheless, he is leading the ANC away from its policies."

Zuma's faction took over the leadership of the ANC in a national conference vote in December and dismissed Mbeki as the country's president last month in a deeply divisive move. Zuma is expected to be selected president after next year's parliamentary elections.

In Zuma's brief tenure, the party has faced its worst split: Lekota's threat to break away comes after nearly 700 members deserted the party late last month to join an existing opposition party. And last weekend, hundreds of dissident members in the Western Cape province held a meeting accusing the ANC leadership of ignoring their complaints.

Lekota's announcement at a news conference Wednesday came a few days after Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, the retired Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, withdrew his support for the ANC. He said he would not vote in next year's elections because of ANC infighting.

Lekota said he represented many disenchanted ANC members in every province.

He accused the Zuma camp of trying to find "a political solution" to criminal charges of corruption and fraud against the party chief. Lekota said this contradicted the ANC's founding document, the Freedom Charter, which stood for equality before the law. The charges against Zuma were thrown out by a judge last month on a technicality, but the prosecution has appealed.

Lekota condemned Zuma's supporters for wearing "100% Zulu boy" T-shirts, which he said betrayed the ANC's stance against tribalism. He criticized Zuma for singing the song "Bring Me My Machine Gun" during public appearances, saying it advocated violence. And he attacked comments by ANC Youth League President Julius Malema that his members would "kill for Zuma."

He also accused the Zuma camp of purging opponents from the party.

"These comrades who decorate themselves with the name ANC are not ANC. We are ANC," Lekota said. "The ANC is not a name. It's its policies. It's its political practice. It's democracy in the organization. It's a commitment to the future of democracy in this country."

He doubted that the ANC leadership would respond to his group's concerns, and announced plans to hold a conference in coming weeks to form a new party. He was not specific about concessions beyond saying he wanted the dissidents' criticisms of the party's direction addressed.

"This is probably the parting of the ways; it probably is," he said.

Zuma said he did not think the split would last. He said ANC leaders would meet with disillusioned members.

"But those who have grievances and other views should realize there's a limit to utilizing the ANC and ANC structures to destabilize the ANC," he said at a news conference. "It's not going to be just allowing everybody whatever he wants."

Zuma has an obvious motive to stop the split, which could undercut or end the party's dominance, said analyst Mark Ashurst, director of the London-based Africa Research Institute. But even if Zuma succeeds, the party is likely to face further fragmentation in the future, Ashurst said.

"It will be a more fragmented environment than the one we have seen. . . . Zuma, or whoever is president, will have to work harder to keep the broad church that's the ANC together," he said.

But Justice Malala, a columnist with the Financial Mail magazine, predicted the split would be a flash in the pan because it was about personalities, not policies.

"A more substantial split in the ANC would have been along a policy divide," he said.


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