The current political turmoil within South Africa’s ruling African National Congress is “great news” for the evolution to proper democracy in South Africa, the leader of the opposition Democratic Allaince, Helen Zille, said in London.

Speaking to 150 members of the South African Business Club, Zille said she has never been more optimistic about a bright political future for South Africa. She said the fundamental cracks in the ANC have been showing long before the Polokwane party conference. Now the way former president Thabo Mbeki was ousted have laid the foundations for the next crucial step to democracy.

Zille said although this “step” will only unfold over the next five years, it will be the “fundamental realignment of South African politics and a reconfiguration of political parties to reflect the debate on the great challenges of the future, rather than the obsolete racial outbidding of the past”.

“The clear political divide emerging (in the ANC) is not based on race, ethnicity or even class.  It is between those who believe in the supremacy of the Constitution and those who subscribe to the higher law of the party.   The dividing line between these two opposing visions for the future does not run between the ANC on the one hand and the combined opposition on the other.  It runs right down the middle of the ANC itself,” she said.

She said this is great news for South Africans at home and abroad because the end point of all of this is that “the old is dying, even as the new is struggling to be born”.

“We are moving away from the current configuration with one single dominant party and a fragmented opposition. The dominant party is beginning to fracture and the opposition is beginning to coalesce around common core values.”

She urged South Africans living abroad to return home and become part of this”exciting” process. “Our next major step is about nine months away, at the general election next year.  At this crucial benchmark, we must seek to hold the ANC below a 2/3 majority nationally, and we must win power in at least one province, either on our own or in a coalition with other opposition parties.”

She said this objective would be made easier if the ANC splits before the next election, but this development is not a foregone conclusion. “But whether there is a breakaway now or not, one thing is certain:  the ANC’s divisions will deepen in the years ahead and its disintegration, from a position of almost complete hegemony for the past 14 years, has begun.”

She said by 2014  “a new political entity will definitely be a pillar of the political landscape, with real prospects of winning the national election.  The key names of South African politics who are currently scattered across many parties or outside of politics altogether, will find the same political home, and “we will nominate a presidential candidate and shadow cabinet that can carry us through the real test of any emerging democracy  – a peaceful change of power through the ballot box”.

“And this is not wishful thinking.  The political currents, growing stronger below the surface, are propitious.  We have to row extremely hard, sometimes with the current (and sometimes across it) to extend our support base, continue the dialogue already underway behind the scenes, win power wherever we can, and then govern well to demonstrate the alternative in practice to change people’s lives,” Zille said. – Piet van Niekerk