ANC unlikely to lose sleep over new party

Correction: In the article below, received from the South African Press Association, Professor Steven Friedman was incorrectly quoted as saying: “You need half-a-million votes to get a seat in Parliament.” Friedman has pointed out that half-a-million votes are needed to get 10 seats in Parliament, and not one seat.

The rumoured breakaway party by former African National Congress chairperson Mosiuoa Lekota is unlikely to give the ANC sleepless nights, a respected political analyst said on Wednesday.

“You need half-a-million votes to get a seat in Parliament. A few thousand attending a meeting is no real indication,” professor Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, told a convention of the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Johannesburg.

“I’m quite sceptical that this party is really going to get the kind of attraction to give anyone in the ANC sleepless nights,” he added.

Friedman said he did not believe ANC leader Jacob Zuma was concerned about the talk of a new party.

“I don’t think that Zuma and the people around him see this as a problem in terms of building the relationships they think are important.

“I think Jacob Zuma and the people around him have made a clear strategic calculation ... to keep [ousted former president Thabo] Mbeki and the senior people around him [Mbeki] in the ANC,” said Friedman.

“I think that if Lekota is going to move out of the ANC, then he [Zuma] does not want to have a relationship with him ...
They are trying to get him [Lekota] to leave.”

Friedman said he hoped that the ANC would respect the right to start a new political party but “one would not expect Mr Zuma to send a Lekota a Christmas card”.

“Politics is going to get rough if people break away,” said Friedman.

Lekota accused the ANC last week of deviating from past policy and said he was “serving divorce papers” on the ruling party.

Former Gauteng Premier Shilowa resigned alongside Lekota and a string of Cabinet ministers out of loyalty to Mbeki.

Shilowa said on Wednesday that a national convention which could lead to the launch of a new opposition party by disgruntled ANC members will be held in November.

Shilowa, who resigned from the ANC on Tuesday night, said he would be the convener of the convention to be held on November 2 at a venue to be announced.

“After much soul-searching and interrogation of the aims and objectives of the national convention and the possible outcome thereof, I have decided to resign my membership of the ANC with immediate effect and to lend my support to the initiative by making myself available on a full-time basis as the convener and volunteer-in-chief together with comrade Mosiuoa and others,” he told reporters in Fourways, Johannesburg.

He said he expected to be vilified for his decision and, playing on Zuma’s warning that people who left the party would be left out in the cold, said: “This being sunny Africa I can say without any fear that most will find there is a lot of sunshine out there”.

Shilowa said he would first help establish a preparatory committee comprised of “prominent individuals” and they would tour the country to consult sectors of society on how to “defend democracy” and improve prosperity in South Africa.

He encouraged people to bring their views to the convention.

“This includes those who believe that the convention should also pronounce a platform for a new political party,” he said.

Discussions would also include electoral reform to directly elect a president, instead of the national president being elected by the party.

If a party was formed, it would be “a hard slog” opening branches and forming party lists and dealing with the inevitable in-fighting.

Quipping that for now he was just “one man and a cellphone”, he said he planned to hold the first of these planned countrywide pre-convention discussions in his home village Olifantshoek in Limpopo on October 17.

He and Lekota would lead the convention.

Lekota said he was concerned that the ANC was deviating from the principles of the Freedom Charter in the way it had lobbied against the prosecution of Zuma on corruption charges.

These charges were set aside by the Pietermaritzburg High Court in September and Mbeki was forced to resign, a move that Lekota and Shilowa publicly questioned.

Radical decision
The ANC said it had welcomed his resignation, calling his behaviour “unacceptable and untenable”. It is expected to make a “radical” decision concerning Lekota at a meeting on his future in the party on

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa, who was also expelled from the African National Congress, said he was appalled by this threat, saying it created the environment for violence and hostility.

Shilowa’s political career spans the Mass Democratic Movement before the ANC was unbanned, secretary general of the Congress of South African Trade Unions and an South African Communist Party central committee member, as well being part of the negotiating team at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa.

Shilowa said people were too preoccupied with ANC internal affairs.

“The ANC is an important player, as an agent for change, but there is broader society as well.”

Questioned on the political allegiance of his businesswoman wife Wendy Luhabe, he replied: “I don’t know that my wife will do. She is an independent woman. I make my decisions, she must be able to make her decisions.” - Sapa

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