Forging a new party

2008-10-21 00:00

MOSIUOA Lekota’s outburst against the ANC a fortnight ago, followed by the resignation of Mbhazima Shilowa as Gauteng premier has been an important political development. The long-predicted split in the ANC is becoming a reality with the announcements of the convening of a so-called national convention on November 2 and a launch on December 16. Clearly a struggle for the soul of the ANC is at hand as suggested by the symbolism of the proposed venue, Bloemfontein, where the ANC was born in 1912 with both factions claiming to be the custodians of the Freedom Charter and the Constitution. And to both factions, with an election due in the first half of next year, the questions of delivery and service are paramount. These are the criteria by which they will be judged. Shilowa has a good track record as Gauteng premier; Lekota was a less successful minister of defence. But they are both acknowledged political heavyweights, as is Willie Madisha, the former Cosatu leader who was the victim of a bitter power struggle.

In these developments, it is important that democratic principles are respected, unlike the behaviour in former times of the Nationalists towards breakaway groups. In a democracy, people have the right to hold meetings to discuss the formation of new parties. It is therefore disturbing to read that Lekota’s weekend rally had to be moved to the Vista University campus after the Central University of Technology (of which, ironically, he is still chancellor) withdrew permission. Similarly, it is not good enough that a proposed meeting in Winburg had to be cancelled last week after the municipality refused to make a venue available.

What support will the new alignment garner? At this stage it is hard to tell. There is talk that in Parliament the ANC is in a state of panic at the possibility of losing no fewer than 50 MPs and in the fractious Western Cape region ANC members are reputedly tearing up their membership cards by the score. Moreover, while the Jacob Zuma faction might well be overwhelming in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga, that is certainly not the case in most other provinces. Indeed, the stronger the Zuma appeal to populism and tribalism, the stronger the counter-reaction. The opposite side of the “100% Zulu boy” coin is that there is zero percent for anyone else who might happen to belong to a different grouping.

Thus, while the outcome is still opaque, one thing is clear: the existing mould in South African politics has been broken. And that is a good thing for democracy.

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