The "Vote No" campaign, co-headed by Ronnie Kasrils, is meant to encourage disheartened voters to go to the polls on May 7, not a "no vote" campaign.
Former deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge has not attended an ANC branch meeting since 2009, she said at the launch of the "Vote No" campaign on Tuesday at Wits University.
"I stopped visiting when branches became conveyor belts for decisions taken on high, and only met around conferences and election time," she said to a question asking whether the ultimate protest would not be to leave the ANC.
"I am a member of the ANC … but if anyone wants to take action against me, I welcome that."
Madlala-Routledge is one of more than 100 veterans who have signed a document entitled "Sidikiwe! Vukani! Vote no!", translated as "We are fed up! Wake up!"
The "Vote No" campaign, co-headed by former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils, is meant to encourage disheartened voters to go to the polls come May 7, not a "no vote" campaign, journalists heard at the launch of the campaign.
Kasrils revealed at the conference that he had not voted for the ANC in the last election, and apologised for not speaking up earlier about things like Aids denialism.
He also pointed out that the difference between the mistakes of former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela compared to Jacob Zuma, was that his predecessors were not motivated by personal greed or self-enrichment. "It could have been decisions of political misjudgments, but not greed. It's vastly different," he said.
'Slings, arrows and stones'
Kasrils and other veterans have been particularly damning about the Nkandla scandal, which involves more than R200-million worth of security upgrades to Zuma's private residence.
While Kasrils said the group expected "slings, arrows and stones" and labels of traitor for putting their heads above the parapets, his co-leader Madlala-Routledge said they were doing it out of "deep love for our country" and the leaders who had sacrificed their lives for democracy.
Kasrils pointed out that the group was not a "VIP crowd" but the organisers said they had received much support from people in power who were afraid to speak up.
Disillusioned ANC member Jerry Tihopane told the room that the words "I'm not going to vote" had become a buzz phrase in the townships he frequented, even among ANC members. "So Comrade Ronnie just co-ordinated and articulated that. There are many people unhappy with the ANC today."
However there was some confusion around the branding of the campaign, with the chair of the press conference, former MK member Louise Colvin, repeatedly clarifying that they were not campaigning for not voting but for a protest vote against the ANC: either vote for another party to send a warning or spoil your vote if you feel no option represented your interests.
"We are calling voters to come out on May 7 to use your democratic right … this is how you can use your democratic right instead of sitting in your corner and complaining that our leaders have forgotten us – and indeed they are showing signs that they have forgotten us," said Madlala-Routledge.
"Go to the polling booth and use your vote to show that you are dissatisfied."
Several journalists and other individuals in the room pointed out that the campaign was either confusing or pointless.
Respected journalist and analyst Alistair Sparks told Kasrils that the campaign would not make an "iota of difference". "All it will do is lower the overall percentage given our proportional representation system," said Sparks. It won't be counted separately and it won't change the percentage of any party. The ANC will not be shaken at all."
Colvin clarified that the campaign would use a number of measures to determine disillusionment of voters. This includes a potential drop in voter numbers, a loss of support for the ANC, and a rise in spoilt ballots.
The campaign would continue to motivate for increased participation in democracy and debate after the elections. "None of us have political aspirations," said Colvin. "This is not about launching a political party at all."
The group appeared to be largely on the left with Madlala-Routledge, saying she could not wait for the political formation of the united left that is being developed by the breakaway National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (Numsa). The development of the campaign was also helped along by left-leaning academics and intellectuals, the Mail & Guardian understands.
But one of the leaders of the campaign, Vishwas Satgar, said the campaign was aimed at everyone, and that a protest vote was important whether a voter was liberal or on the left. "If you vote for the ANC today, you are voting for the Guptas," he said.
"The vote for the ANC is a vote for the mine bosses who don't want to reach a deal with the workers … this is a very important gathering of key social movements who are trying to fight back."