Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sppliting ANC

Another political heavyweight has quit South Africa's ruling African National Congress as dissidents prepare to launch a rival party after the former president, Thabo Mbeki, was toppled from power by supporters of Jacob Zuma.

Mbhazima Shilowa, a former trade union leader and ex-premier of the country's industrial and financial heartland around Johannesburg and Pretoria, resigned from the ANC over what he called the "putsch" against Mbeki, who was ordered by the party leadership under Zuma to resign as South Africa's president last month.

Shilowa said he was backing Mbeki's former defence minister, Mosiuoa Lekota, who announced he was "serving divorce papers" on the ANC last week. The party suspended Lekota this week.

The rebels plan to call a national convention "in defence of democracy" on November 2 which is expected to be the launch pad for a rival to the ANC as the party fractures over political and, to a lesser extent, ethnic differences.

Shilowa said he would establish a preparatory committee of "prominent individuals" ahead of the convention to tour the country and generate support.

The ANC's national executive held a special session yesterday to discuss the split. The leadership said it would act "very decisively" to rid the party of factionalism.

Zuma claimed the new party would get nowhere. "It's cold out there if you are out of the ANC, very cold," he said.

There is little likelihood of the ANC losing next year's general election, but if Lekota and his allies can get a serious breakaway movement off the ground, it could eat into the ruling party's two-thirds majority in parliament.

Two of the ANC's provincial ministers are expected to quit in the mostly Xhosa eastern Cape, where there is discontent not only because it is Mbeki's home province, but because of unhappiness at the Zuma camp's emphasis on their leader's Zulu roots. Lekota condemned the T-shirts worn by Zuma's supporters at the ANC convention in December that declared him to be "100% Zulu", a jibe at accusations that Mbeki headed a "Xhosa nostra" at the top of the ANC.

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