Former defence minister Mosiuoa ‘Terror’ Lekota served his divorce papers on the African National Congress (ANC) on Wednesday.
At a news conference in Johannesburg Lekota called on all who share his concerns to join in a collective effort to defend “our movement of democracy”, but stopped short of announcing a new breakaway political party from the ANC.
When he was asked whether this meant he was announcing the formation of a new political party, he replied: “I will say it when I choose to say it”.
Lekota, a former senior member of the ANC and long serving cabinet minister, criticised the new ANC leadership elected in Polokwane in December and specifically party leader Jacob Zuma. “He is the legitimate leader of the ANC. Nevertheless, he is leading the ANC away from its policy,” said Lekota.
He added that the ANC no longer seemed committed to the principles of equality before the law. “Even when we steal money, like any other thief, we will be locked up. If you steal and you are black or white (we must go to) jail. That is something we must teach now, it doesn’t matter if you are the leader of the ANC, the law will apply to you,” said Lekota.
He said hundreds of ANC members at branch level were unhappy with the way in which the current ANC leaders were deviating from party principles. He would call for a public convention to discuss this. That would be the beginning of a “process that we will set in place”, apparently to start a new organisation.
Lekota last week sharply criticised the new ANC leadership in an open letter to secretary general Gwede Mantashe. It followed his resignation alongside ousted former president Thabo Mbeki who was removed from office by the national executive committee of the ANC.
Several cabinet members, seen to be Mbeki loyalists, and former Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa, resigned following his departure from office, fuelling rumours of the formation of a new opposition party.
But transport minister Jeff Radebe, an ANC NEC member, responded: “Put bluntly, you and those who share your views are giving notice to leave the ANC”.
Opposition Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder said Lekota has now “crossed the Rubicon” to establish a new political party and can not – without great difficulty – turn back.
“Regardless of how many votes such a probable new ANC-type party would gain, it is good for democracy and for South Africa that the ANC majority is being reduced and that a more natural distribution of political parties is being established.”
Mulder said the struggle for the leadership of the ANC was concluded with the resignation of Mbeki. The fight has now shifted to a struggle for the hearts of the ANC supporters. There can also no longer be any doubt with anyone about the deep divisions within the ANC.
“The Zuma grouping in the ANC wanted to get rid of Mr. Mbeki, but they did not really want to split the ANC before the next general election as they want to obtain the maximum number of votes for the ANC in the election. It is for this reason that all ministers who were known as pro-Mbeki supporters were again appointed to Cabinet. If a new ANC political party is established, it will bring in new tension into the ANC and it will put the so-called pro-Mbeki ministers under great pressure to indeed join the new party.
“For the first time since 1994 the ANC will be losing support during the forthcoming elections. The governing party will also be getting less than 66% of the votes which means that the Zuma-ANC will not be able to change the Constitution on their own. In the foreseeable future the ANC should also have less than 50% of the votes. At that time the advantages of a proportional electoral system will be experienced where no party will be able to make a decision on its own. Such a development places huge pressure on opposition parties to cooperate in a sensible way,” Mulder said.
Mulder pointed out how these events confirm the unpredictable nature of South Africa’s politics. “Following the election in 2004, Mr. Mbeki and Mr. Zuma appeared on television, full of smiles, with their hands triumphantly intertwined above their heads to celebrate the ANC’s 70% victory. Four years later we enter a new political landscape with Mr. Mbeki eliminated and the ANC on the point of losing support and of splitting.”