Jacob Zuma has called them snakes and, for their disloyalty, “bigamists”. The leaders of a breakaway faction of the African National Congress should take that as a compliment. It is a sign that Mr Zuma, the ANC leader and South Africa’s likely future president, is taking seriously their bid to create a viable opposition ahead of next year’s polls. This marks the most significant split in the country’s ruling party since the end of white minority rule. It could also prove the most welcome development to emerge from the bitter power struggle between Mr Zuma and Thabo Mbeki, which culminated in Mr Mbeki’s humiliating resignation as president in September.
Fourteen years after coming to power, the ANC has been developing symptoms familiar to other liberation movements that have monopolised the political terrain. The rebels contend that the party’s internal democracy is eroding and that, in their bid to quash corruption charges against Mr Zuma, his supporters are willing to undermine the judiciary. Existing opposition parties are mainly restricted in their appeal and influence to whites and people of mixed race. The development of a credible multiracial alternative to challenge the ANC’s overwhelming majority in parliament is overdue. The task of creating one out of the current rebellion, however, is formidable.
Zuma hits out at rebel ‘snakes’ - Nov-02S African breakaway body challenges ANC - Oct-31S Africa urged to beware of left turn - Oct-27S Africa to borrow more for infrastructure - Oct-22Former ANC stalwart set to lead breakaway - Oct-15S Africa warned against sharp policy shifts - Oct-07Since the ANC’s foundation almost a century ago, breakaway movements have withered in the shadow of its greater discipline, fundraising capacity and emotional appeal. This latest attempt could suffer a similar fate. Mr Zuma has taken control of the party machine and its parliamentary caucus. He is immensely popular among poorer South Africans who felt excluded during the economic boom years of Mr Mbeki and are demanding greater attention to their plight. To date, the breakaway wing, which plans to register as the “South African Democratic Congress”, has drawn only a handful of heavyweights.
Of course it is tempting for Mr Zuma, whose populist instincts are clear, to paint them as traitors to the revolution. There are also worrying signs that the split could take on an ethnic hue. In a country with such immense racial and social inequality, there is a danger that politicians will seek to mobilise support through division as competition for power intensifies. The break-up of other liberation movements has rarely been pretty. Yet, if the new party gathers support, and develops credible policy alternatives, the ANC will be under pressure to smarten up its own act. In that scenario, South Africa can only benefit.
6 months ago