/ 16 October 2008

Is ANC eyeing an early election?

The African National Congress (ANC) may call an early general election to try to undermine plans by former party officials to form a breakaway group to challenge the party, the Star reported on Thursday.

”Some ANC national executive committee [NEC] members are pushing for early elections in a bid to destabilise the new party’s plans, as more regional and provincial executive members are expected to leave the ruling party this week,” said the Star.

The NEC met on Wednesday to discuss a rebellion led by former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota, who resigned after the ANC forced former president Thabo Mbeki to stand down. It was expected to hold a news conference at 10am to provide details.

ANC officials were not immediately available for comment.

Mbeki’s ousting was the climax of a power struggle with Jacob Zuma, recently elected leader of the ANC, and has unleashed the country’s worst political crisis since the end of apartheid in 1994.

The former premier of Gauteng, Mbhazima Shilowa, said on Wednesday he had resigned from the ANC and would join a dissident group threatening to form a breakaway party.

In a television interview on Wednesday evening, Zuma said the ANC is not divided right down the middle. However, he admitted: ”I’m definitely concerned.”

This followed the week of political drama in which Lekota was suspended and Shilowa resigned from the party. Both have conveyed that a new party may arise from a national convention scheduled for November 2.

Last week, Lekota and his former defence deputy, Mluleki George, said they were concerned that the ANC had moved away from its founding principles.

Lekota suggested the national convention to gauge how people felt about developments in the party. These included the NEC asking Mbeki to resign in September after a court judgement setting aside corruption charges against Zuma.

Asked on Wednesday whether unity in the ANC was under severe threat, Zuma said: ”Not necessarily. You have a few comrades who have very strong feelings about decisions in the organisation who decide to part with the organisation. It is a challenge we have to deal with in a manner that is responsible.”

ANC members have to observe its procedures and traditions when trying to resolve matters, he said. ”People now just jump out and say, ‘There are problems here, I’m leaving.”’

On the party losing some of its most prominent leaders, Zuma said: ”I’m very careful of us using the word of ANC division.”

He added: ”There may be special issues in the Western Cape [where there have been rallies apparently in support of Lekota] that make that province look a particular way. Even before Terror [Lekota] went there, at the provincial conference people were not happy. It cannot be assumed this is what is happening throughout the country.”