/ 23 October 2008

‘Save us from ANC warlords,’ say Lekota supporters

Ripping up pictures of African National Congress (ANC) leader Jacob Zuma and vowing to rescue South Africa from ”warlords”, backers of a new breakaway movement sought to drum up support in Gauteng on Thursday.

But, underscoring deep tensions within the party that has dominated South African politics since the end of apartheid, Zuma supporters chanted angry slogans and tried to stop crowds entering the first big dissident rally in the Johannesburg area. The ANC has been shaken by bitter rivalry between Zuma and Thabo Mbeki, who was ousted as president last month and whose supporters plan to start a new party.

The group, led by former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota and former Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa, is trying to rally support ahead of a formal launch at a November 2 convention, and the rally is seen as an important gauge of its support.

A Reuters witness said about 200 supporters gathered at a community hall in Orange Farm, an ANC stronghold south of Johannesburg, many of them wearing yellow T-Shirts bearing Lekota’s face and reading ”Ready to govern and Save South Africa from tyranny”.

Some wielded placards with slogans such as ”Save us from the ANC warlords”.

Lekota was due to address the rally on Thursday, the first of several planned for Gauteng.

With only about six months before an election that Zuma is expected to win, the new group seems likely struggle to make a big dent in the ANC’s vast support base, especially without the support of more heavyweights, such as Mbeki himself.

But analysts say it could attract middle-class voters worried by the ANC’s perceived shift the left, possibly including powerful business figures willing to bankroll an aggressive campaign.

And although the ANC still enjoys political mileage from its long fight against apartheid, some South Africans are increasingly frustrated with party power struggles that have overshadowed crucial issues such as poverty and crime.

Political analyst Justice Malala wrote in a South African newspaper this week that Lekota had ”tapped into a massive legion of the disgruntled in the ANC” and described the new movement as ”our first truly viable opposition”.

About 200 Zuma supporters also arrived in Orange Farm on Thursday and tried to stop Lekota fans entering the meeting, singing Zuma’s trademark struggle song, Umshini Wami, and carrying their own posters, a witness said.

Some danced and stomped on the ground, shouting ”Kill Terror, he’s a sell-out”, according to the South African Press Association.

Police separated the two groups and no violence was reported. — Reuters