Image: Mosiuoa Lekota
Denis Farrell  /  AP
Former South African Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota speaks at a news conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday. Lekota accused the main ANC leaders of being undemocratic, fanning ethnic tensions and making a naked grab for power.
updated 10/8/2008 6:55:22 AM ET 2008-10-08T10:55:22

A leading South African politician said Wednesday that he and other members of the governing African National Congress may break away to form a new opposition.

Mosiuoa Lekota's announcement broadcast live on national TV reflects growing concern among South Africans about the future of the party that led the fight to end apartheid in 1994 and has governed the country since.

Lekota accused main ANC leaders were undemocratic, fanning ethnic tensions and making a naked grab for power. He did not say outright that a new party would be formed; he said consultations were still under way. But, "it seems that we are serving today divorce papers," he said.

There have been rumors that an ANC faction was preparing to form a new party since a rival group led by party leader Jacob Zuma last month forced Thabo Mbeki to resign as the nation's president. Zuma is expected to win next year's presidential elections despite a possible corruption trial.

Lekota stepped down as defense minister when Mbeki was ousted.

Mbeki was not present at Wednesday's news conference, and Lekota refused to say whether the former president was involved in plans for a new party.

Short-lived?
Zuma had told business leaders Tuesday night that if the ANC split, the new party would probably be short-lived.

"If it happens it could be (because of) the anger and die down very quickly," the South African Press Association quoted him as saying.

If Lekota were to form a new party, it would have little time before the election expected early in 2009 to mount a real challenge to the overwhelmingly popular ANC. But emergence of a new party would likely increase concerns about whether the ANC was capable of fulfilling its promises to take the country to prosperity and greater democracy.

On Wednesday, Lekota said hundreds of ANC members across the country were already leaving to join established opposition parties.

"I have said to my comrades, we cannot leave the African National Congress. We are the African National Congress because we are committed to the policies and principles of the ANC," he said. "The current leadership have shown that they are not ANC."

He referred to Zuma without naming him, speaking of ANC leaders who "stand on public platforms singing songs that advocate violence." Zuma is known for performing "Bring me my machine gun," an apartheid-era protest song, after court appearances in his corruption case.

Fear of violence, tribalism
Lekota also decried T-shirts "printed with tribalist slogans, decorated with the face of some senior members of the ANC." Zulu supporters of Zuma, who is Zulu, have celebrated his tribe in T-shirt slogans and chants.

"Tribalism is the most serious danger to our country and to our people," Lekota said.

He accused the ANC leadership of turning its back on its democratic traditions in its eagerness to elevate Zuma despite the corruption accusations he has faced.

ANC members must find a way "to strengthen democracy in this country," Lekota said.

The ANC is Africa's oldest liberation movement and presents its history since its founding in 1912 as an unbroken chain, first of dedicated opposition to apartheid, then commitment to building a democratic, developed multiracial society. But it has always been a broad tent, so tensions were inevitable among its diverse elements — whites and blacks, communists and entrepreneurs, leftists and traditionalists, those exiled during the apartheid years and those who struggled at home.

A radical element that emerged in the 1959 broke away altogether, in part because of a belief that whites had too much influence in the ANC. That group, led by Robert Sobukwe, formed the Pan-Africanist Congress.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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