Mbeki supporters ‘test waters’ over new party

Supporters of former president Thabo Mbeki, who want to start a new political formation, hope to use outgoing Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa as the face of the party.

Moves are at an advanced stage in various provinces to kick-start the splinter party that will be the new political home for the disgruntled and the disillusioned in the African National Congress (ANC) after an exchange of vitriolic letters between former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota and Transport Minister Jeff Radebe.

The letter by Lekota on Thursday for the first time gave an official indication that those in the party who supported Mbeki are close to launching a party that will cause a split in the ANC.

Lekota told the Mail & Guardian that he decided to write the letter to ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe in order to show his anger and disillusionment with ”some of the things going on in the ANC at the moment”.

”I told the SG [Mantashe] that I myself am very uncomfortable with some the things I said there [in the letter] but there are many comrades who are in the ANC who are seeing these things, and we are uncertain if this is the ANC that we joined or whether this is now a different party.”

The letter was on Thursday given to three journalists from two newspapers and the South African Broadcasting Corporation in Pretoria, which Lekota titled ”Open letter to ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe”.

In his interview on Thursday night with the M&G, Lekota referred to the sacking of Mbeki and the ”purging of Mbeki people” that is taking place, both in the ANC and in government.

”The ANC abandoned its original programme and I asked him [Mantashe] to give me assurance that we haven’t veered from our original programme.”

Lekota said that while the ANC he knew ”allowed for dissenting voices to be heard”, he is threatened with expulsion because he raised his concerns.

Transport Minister Radebe responded to Lekota’s letter on behalf of the ANC national executive committee (NEC) and said that the ANC leadership viewed Lekota’s letter as an intention on Lekota’s part to leave the ANC.

”You and those who share your views are giving notice to leave the ANC,” he wrote.

Radebe counter-accused Lekota of reducing the NEC to an ”animal farm” when Lekota was the party chairperson, where only concurring views were accommodated.

”Those who shared your views had a field day whilst the rest were banished to the twilight. The unlucky ones were subject to your verbal assaults, privately and publicly,” Radebe wrote.

Radebe said Lekota even allowed NEC members to insult former president Nelson Mandela.

Lekota denied such an event.

He also insisted that he always allowed for ”people to say whatever they want to say” during the NEC meetings that he chaired.

”If they wanted to say something, it was my duty as chair to allow them to say their say.”

‘Gauging the mood’
Although Lekota kept mum on any launch of a new formation, his name is mentioned in talks about the possible new party.

A text messages has circulating in ANC circles to drum up support for the formation.

”Launch of the interim African National Congress Democratic Front (ANC-DF) in Limpopo, Free State, Eastern Cape, North West, Northern Cape, Western Cape are ready to launch interims. Gauteng still lacks proper coordination but rich with cadres and resources, Shilowa’s move will give direction, KZN and Mpumalanga could be a challenge, cadres there are ready to move though. Timing is being strategised — be part of the great historical move, [sic]” the text message reads.

Mbeki supporters closely involved with the new formation said they were ”testing the waters” to see if such a movement would get off the ground.

Currently, the thinking is that Shilowa, who tendered his resignation this week, must be the face of the party.

Shilowa has refused to talk about his involvement in the new formation.

Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi and her husband, Jabu, who were both fervent Mbeki supporters, are also going to be approached.

Both resigned from their positions — as public service and administration minister and deputy minister of finance respectively — last week in protest at Mbeki’s firing.

”We are gauging the mood. It will be the voice of the reasonable people in the party. We know we had 40% at Polokwane and we are gaining people in the provinces,” an insider says.

”We can become the official opposition in Parliament.”

There are high-level talks going on with disgruntled ANC members in provinces who were done in during the provincial conferences. All of these conferences held this year, bar KwaZulu-Natal, were marred with infighting, allegations of corruption and violence.

A meeting is planned this weekend with members in the Western Cape, after which top ANC members are expected to resign.

Strategic document
Meanwhile, ANC and government officials who are behind the formation of such a political party told the M&G that they expected three more provincial premiers, Sello Moloto from Limpopo, Dipuo Peters from Northern Cape and Beatrice Marshoff from Free State, to resign from their current positions to join the new party.

”We are just waiting for few more resignations before we hit the ground,” said one senior government official.

The M&G understands that key strategists behind the new party have already developed a strategic document, detailing the reasons why the formation of a new party is necessary and policy directions.

The document, which until now has been kept secret, would be distributed to identified leaders in various provinces who are selling the idea of a new party to ordinary members of the ANC who supported Mbeki. This idea would also be canvassed among ordinary citizens who are fed up about the ANC.

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe told the M&G on Friday he was aware of the moves by disgruntled members of the ANC to form a new party. However, he said this did not present any threat to the ANC ahead of next year’s elections.

”I know some people might want to join the new party, but not all members of the ANC would do that,” said Mantashe.

In a statement this week, the ANC said the formation of a new party would not distract it from its historic mission and its immediate task of leading the party in government.

”The practice of multiparty democracy accommodates the formation of new parties. In democracies around the world it is a normal occurrence in the hustle and bustle of politics, and South Africa is no exception. Our Constitution guarantees the freedom of association,” the statement read.

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Mandy Rossouw
Guest Author
Matuma Letsoala
Guest Author

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