ANC president Jacob Zuma will spend the months ahead engaging ANC provincial structures in an attempt to head off what seems to be an internal rebellion in the party, as more ANC members call for an alternative political home.
With only months to go before elections, serious cracks have emerged in the ANC. The axing of Thabo Mbeki has strengthened these centrifugal forces.
A growing number of ANC members, mostly Mbeki supporters, want to join a new political party that disgruntled ANC leaders are planning.
Zuma’s first visit will be to the Eastern Cape, a traditional support base of Mbeki, where marginalised ANC members are being sold the idea of an alternative ANC.
Although there has been no formal announcement, the Mail & Guardian understands plans by some ANC leaders to launch a new party are at an advanced stage. This was confirmed by more than eight ANC leaders close to the talks.
Preliminary meetings about the new party idea are understood to have taken place in several provinces.
The M&G has learned that at the first exploratory meeting some leaders proposed to name the new party the African National Congress of South Africa, while others suggested it should be called the United Democratic Front and use a logo similar to that of the ANC.
Studies to gauge potential support have been conducted, mainly concerning government activities, and have included surveys of service delivery under Mbeki’s leadership.
The plan is for senior government figures who performed well under Mbeki to be the party’s new faces.
‘There’s no doubt ordinary South Africans accept the current government leadership,” said a top state official privy to the talks. ‘ANC members hold a different view. But with acceptance in communities, we believe the new party could contest the next elections with a high degree of success.”
Many in Zuma’s camp suspect that those behind the initiative include Limpopo Premier Sello Moloto, Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa, former deputy defence minister Mluleki George and former Ekhuruleni mayor Duma Nkosi. All deny the reports and say they have not attended any secret meeting at which the new party was discussed.
Said a senior ANC leader in Limpopo: ‘The ground for a new party has been laid. The talks have been there for a long time. The meetings are still exclusive, but an announcement will be made in few weeks’ time. Another meeting is scheduled to take place again this weekend in Gauteng.
‘The consensus is that there is a need for a new party, but that it must not be seen as an Mbeki thing — this might be interpreted as him clinging to power.
‘There’s also a slight fear that this will be interpreted by Zuma supporters as another Mbeki effort to stop Zuma taking over as president,” the Limpopo leader said.
An ANC source said many senior leaders did not want to go public with their support for the new party at this stage because they were afraid of being vilified as ‘sell-outs”. One provincial premier raised fears that the launch of the new party could ignite violence.
Some ANC insiders claimed Mbeki was also involved in the initiative but would not be its face.
Mbeki supporters launched a website called Friends of Democracy this week. According to a senior government official close to Mbeki, it will be a platform for Mbeki supporters who believe political space has been closed by the new ANC leadership.
The website, the owners of which are unnamed, carries comments sympathetic to Mbeki — a hostile contributor wrote that it should be renamed ‘Friends of Thabo Mbeki”.
The official said the launch of the website signalled the frustration of Mbeki supporters and the fight-back strategy involving the formation of the new party.
‘Work has begun. We’re moving with speed. We need reassurance [from the Mbeki supporters].”
Other leaders suspected of being conveners of the new party include former minister in the presidency Essop Pahad, former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils, businessman Saki Macozoma and former education minister Kader Asmal. They also pleaded ignorance.
In recent months Asmal has held a number of meetings with leading NGO figures, activists, lawyers and business people in the Western Cape to discuss a civil society coalition in defence of the Constitution.
The meetings in July were provoked in part by the furore surrounding ANC attacks on the Constitutional Court and the Judge John Hlophe affair.
The gatherings were kept secret because of concerns that they would be represented as the germ of a new political party.
At one meeting some of those present argued that voters who would ordinarily vote for the ANC should spoil their ballots to deny the party a two-thirds majority that it could use to push through constitutional changes.
Asmal is ill and not actively involved in the initiative at present.
A public meeting of the coalition was held a fortnight ago, when it was presented as an organisation to campaign for the defence of the Constitution.
However, many members believe it should put a clear voting strategy to the electorate, insiders said.