Boesak on the comeback trail

Former United Democratic Front leader Allan Boesak has returned to politics. This week he told the Mail & Guardian that he will organise opposition to the ANC “like the UDF”.

Boesak’s announcement coincides with the launch of the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) by another UDF stalwart, Aids activist Zackie Achmat.

Boesak, one of the founder members of the UDF in 1983, has had a busy week. He also broke ties with the United Reformed Church, where he is the moderator of the Cape Synod, because of the church’s anti-gay stance.

In an interview with the M&G, Boesak said on Wednesday that he intended forming a UDF-style coalition to “harness the energy of those disillusioned with the ANC”.

He said that before Mosiuoa Lekota’s media conference this week to announce a possible new party, Lekota had approached him to “sound him out”.

However, he was adamant that he would not join any breakaway from the ANC.

“They didn’t ask me to join them but they did indicate that my criticism of the ANC is the same as theirs. I told them it’s not true and that I’m not interested in a new political party,” Boesak said.

“Terror’s initiative looks like factionalism and I’m not interested in an internal ANC battle, because the ordinary voters are always the ones losing out when the ANC fight their factional battles.

“The ANC has overplayed their hand and civil society must wrest back control from them.”

Boesak said he has been “overwhelmed” by business groupings, students and civil society groupings who wanted to become involved in politics again. “Terror is talking about the ANC as if they’ve only started faltering since the Polokwane conference. I’ve been talking about the way the ANC is trampling on democracy for some seven years.

“The ANC has neglected the poor for too long. The wealth gap is now worse than ever and the ANC allowed this to develop. Under Thabo Mbeki non-racialism has been wholly ignored.

“The people of South Africa have not lost faith in the ANC—they have lost faith in democracy. That’s what is inspiring me to get involved again—that is so much more serious than any other issue.”

Referring to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s statement last week that, because of disillusionment with the ANC he will not vote in next year’s election, Boesak said: “If a man like Tutu has lost faith in the democratic process to such an extent that he doesn’t want to vote, then we are in real trouble.”

However, he insisted he is “not interested in opposing the ANC at the ballot box”.

“I say people must vote and maybe one must look at spoiling one’s vote, but we should vote.”

Achmat told the M&G that people “must vote clutching their noses”.

“I’m an ANC member and I think that the capacity to organise people along non-racial lines has been substantially weakened under the leadership of Thabo Mbeki,” he said.

“But it will be a terrible tragedy to abandon the organisation to thugs like Julius Malema or career politicians who kept quiet all those years while people were dying of HIV, while people were being killed in Zimbabwe, and through the collapse of the criminal justice system while our police commissioner was consorting with gangsters.”

Achmat said the SJC is not a political party, but rather a broad front of citizens’ organisations.

“Despite our enormous personal reservations about Terror Lekota, there are certain things that unite us. We say vote next year, but hold your nose because it really smells.”

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