The African National Congress (ANC) is taking a magnanimous stance in response to threats by former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota to form his own political formation that might rival the ANC.
But ANC president Jacob Zuma made it clear that the party’s patience with Lekota is wearing thin.
Zuma said at a press conference on Wednesday at Luthuli House in Johannesburg that although the ANC will engage with Lekota and his supporters, it will not tolerate the way they use the ANC structures to mobilise themselves.
“We are going to engage but these people must realise that there is a limit to which you can utilise the ANC structures to destabilise the ANC,” he said.
The ANC will investigate what “these activities are” and reminded Lekota that democracy is not a free-for-all.
“It is not about allowing everyone to do what they want. People shouldn’t think there is a blank cheque.”
The ANC president also took issue with Lekota’s strategy of communicating through open letters and the media, asking since when does the ANC “raise issues in the media like this”.
ANC treasurer general Mathews Phosa tried to soothe Zuma’s comments by stating his respect for Lekota and that engagement is the only way forward.
“We are not here to throw stones. We are not having a confrontation. He is one of our elders.”
Phosa said the ANC believes political problems are not solved with disciplinary action, so therefore Lekota will not be hauled in front of a disciplinary committee for his critique of the party and its leaders.
He said after the bitter Polokwane battle the national executive committee of the ANC “camped out in provinces” to explain to members the decisions that were taken and to embark on an agenda of internal reconciliation. Talks with Lekota will form part of this agenda.
Phosa said he does not believe the “marriage”, which Lekota has said he is serving divorce papers on, has “irretrievably broken down”.
This is a phrase reminiscent of the Mbeki era when Mbeki claimed the relationship between himself and then-spy boss Billy Masetlha had irretrievably broken down. The same phrase was used to explain why then-justice minister Brigitte Mabandla suspended national director of public prosecutions Vusi Pikoli.
Lekota is due to meet Phosa on Thursday despite Lekota’s insistence that a meeting between himself and President Kgalema Motlanthe to help heal the rift yielded no results.
“We’ll talk and talk and talk and talk,” Phosa told reporters on Wednesday.
Lekota said at an earlier press conference that he is laying the groundwork for a new political formation, but would not disclose details about who is involved or where the funding for it will come from.
Meanwhile, political parties showed mixed reaction to Lekota’s statements.
It was dismissed by the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions as a publicity stunt aimed at drumming up support for a new party.
Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille welcomed “Lekota’s sharp criticism of Jacob Zuma’s ANC and his call for a national debate to discuss the future of our constitutional democracy”.
“The disintegration of the ANC has begun, heralding an exciting new era in South Africa. We have long championed the realignment of politics, which is now clearly under way,” added Zille.
The South African Communist Party said a new movement by Lekota would fail.
“This is nothing but a coalition of the ill-disciplined who cannot accept democratic processes inside the country … the party is not going to last,” said secretary general Blade Nzimande.
“They are continuing what they failed to do inside the ANC.”
The Inkatha Freedom Party said the latest development showed a lack of good leadership within the ANC, while the Independent Democrats said it was not surprised at Lekota’s statements.
The Freedom Front Plus said a new party would be “good for democracy”. United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa, a former ANC member, agreed.
“Hopefully Terror [Lekota] will succeed in whatever he is trying to do. If he were to target at least 30% or 25% of voters, that would be good,” said Holomisa.
The Young Communist League (YCL) said Lekota’s statements on a split in the ANC are “a joke” and “a farce”.
“The Young Communist League notes the cowardly media briefing convened by political mercenaries and aprons of the naked emperor, Terror Lekota and Mluleki George,” the league said in a statement.
Lekota last week sharply criticised the new ANC leadership in an open letter to secretary general Gwede Mantashe, but said he was yet to get a response from Mantashe.
In his letter, he accused the new ANC leaders of steering the organisation “away from the established policy priorities and customary democratic norms of the ANC”.
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.”M&G online