New party has high hopes

2008-11-02 00:00

The formation of a new political party at a gathering of more than 6 000 delegates at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg at the weekend has been heralded as a momentous event.

However, pundits are reserving judgment on whether the momentum will be sustained and whether the weekend events will indeed change South Africa’s political landscape.

One thing is certain — the founding members are stepping boldly into the future.

Convenor-in-chief of the convention that gave rise to the formation of the party, Mbhazima Shilowa, told a gathering of journalists yesterday: “We want to become the next government.” He added: “This is our aim and we are working backwards from there … how do we prepare for this as well as the launch of the new party on December 16 in Bloemfontein”.

The SABC reported later that the party will be called the South African Democratic Congress.

The name will be registered today, it said.

The name, colours and logo were decided in a consultative process involving the provinces.

According to insiders, they were helped by marketing experts, part of a group of young volunteers enthused by the idea of change.

A name SA National Convention hit a glitch when the ANC took the breakaway group to court on Friday to stop it from using a name too closely associated with that of the African National Congress.

Delegates felt a name and logo different from that of the ANC would be better, so the party has a brand-new identity.

Shilowa stressed that the leadership of the new party must not only consist of former ANC members and leaders. He said they want new faces, new blood and new thinkers.

He said the leaders are expecting more resignations from the ANC. “There will be people coming out today [Sunday], there will be people coming out on Monday, there will be people coming out on Tuesday …. and so on,” Shilowa said.

Draft resolutions to guide policy in the new party include reforming the electoral system from one of proportional representation to a constituency-based system, which could lead to South Africans directly electing the president of the country.

Other resolutions were about defending the constitution, restoring the rule of law, creating a cohesive nation, and protecting citizens from poverty, joblessness and all forms of disease, including HIV and Aids. Told that these resolutions did not sound any different from the ideals of other parties, Shilowa said, “Judge us by our actions, not our words”.

Shilowa said they will also be open about who funds the new party. “We will be funded by business people, but they will be told to fund us because they believe in what we stand for and not because they will get contracts.

“Above all, we must be funded by our members, not just their subscriptions, but through fund-raising drives like our current SMS campaign for funds.”

The convention got off to a shaky start on Friday evening. The registration process went haywire after far more people turned up than the expected 4 000. Proceedings were delayed on Saturday morning as plans were being made to house the overflow of delegates. Eventually everyone was piled into the Sandton Convention Centre. Convention staff kept their cool, saying they had handled larger gatherings.

While waiting, delegates maintained a festive mood. They sang and marched up and down in the street outside the centre, waving placards calling for change and decrying the ouster of former president Thabo Mbeki and the Scorpions.

Early-morning Sandton shoppers and guests in the R2 000-plus-a-night Michaelangelo Hotel were agog at this unusual sight in Sandton — an upmarket suburb known for its ambience of quiet discretion where shoppers can unhurriedly go about their business.

However, no one seemed fazed and some took seats in Maraschino’s, a café across from the convention centre, sipping lattes and espressos while watching the carnival-like scenes on the street.

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