/ 3 November 2008

The gloves come off

South Africa’s most competitive election race since 1994 has taken off and it will be fought around one man: African National Congress president Jacob Zuma.

When the idea of this party — now dubbed the South African Democratic Congress (SADC) — first surfaced weeks ago, Zuma said he would not talk about them, lest they should feel important. But the ruling party leader has spent the past week doing little else. He is now doing his best to discredit the leaders of the breakaway party.

Speaking at his own meeting in Jabulani, Soweto, on Sunday, he called the dissidents poisonous snakes, ”bigamists” and ”political hypocrites”.

He painted a picture of a group of people who have no principles, policies or vision, and who were merely driven by their loss of power at the ANC’s national conference in Polokwane last December.

On Sunday, the ANC held a well-attended rally in Soweto, which was clearly a counter to SADC’s first national convention in Sandton, Johannesburg.

SADC co-leader Mosiuoa Lekota also said they did not want the occasion to be an ANC-bashing exercise, but it quickly became one.

The majority of the speakers directly, and indirectly, told of how the ANC was going down the drain under the leadership of Zuma. Their grievances commonly decried the loss of moral authority, the lack of commitment to the rule of law and the general lack of respect shown by society since Zuma took over.

SADC delegates said this had allowed radicals, such as ANC Youth League president Julius Malema to run amok, threatening violence and vowing to crush anyone who does not want Zuma to be president.

”Are you still willing to attach your name to what brings despair?” Lekota asked at the conference.

”No”, the crowd thundered.

University of South Africa vice-chancellor Barney Pityana said the country was desperate for quality leadership. He spoke of the need to protect women who were being raped by political leaders, but he later denied he had been referring to Zuma, who was acquitted on rape charges in 2006.

Delegates from the provinces said the ANC was tearing itself apart due to its tolerance of fraud and corruption.

”We need to be clear about what divides us. It is corruption,” said Phillip Mhlongo, who was leading a delegation from KwaZulu-Natal.

Dawn of a new party
The SADC party will be formally constituted in Bloemfontein on December 16. Former Gauteng premier Mbazima Shilowa told delegates at the closing session of the convention that it could not be a ”no-brand name” until then.

Shilowa said many of the ANC dissidents would continue to revere former SA president Thabo Mbeki even though he remains a member of what is now their political opposition.

”Thabo Mbeki, just like former leaders of the ANC, is not our enemy. Some if not many of the people who go with us revere Thabo Mbeki,” he said in Johannesburg.

Nelson Mandela, another past president of the ANC, was not a member of the new movement either, and the dissidents did not regard him as an enemy.

In a letter to Zuma last month, Mbeki said the leaders of the movement ”have not engaged me in any of the actions they are taking, to secure my approval or otherwise”.

But he also asked that no one should use his name to promote partisan causes ”including how the 2009 ANC election campaign will be conducted”.

Shilowa said people assumed Mbeki was an ”underground” SADC member.

The ex-president, he said, could not be an underground member and still maintain he did not want anyone to use his name in the election campaign.