Will this floor-crossing period ending on September 15 result in a credible black opposition to the dominant African National Congress? WAGHIED MISBACH explores this question

Some have argued that nothing much has changed since the floor-crossing period started a few years ago.

There is much credibility to this argument because the simple fact is that the ANC has drawn support from almost every political party in the country in successive floor-crossing window periods. Overall, the ANC has suffered very little loss, while other parties have bled considerably.

So the situation remains - ANC dominates nationally and is the sole party to benefit overall from floor-crossing. Western Cape is the only exception, from the ANC leadership point of view, and this situation is not a result of floor-crossing. The population of Western Cape votes along racial lines, for reasons widely known. The infighting among the ANC's provincial leadership has also been a factor in its inability to consolidate its support.

So is the latest new party, the African People's Convention (APC), led by the former PAC MP Themba Godi, signalling a shift in black opposition politics? If so, does this translate into the possibility of a successful and effective challenge to the ruling ANC in the future? Godi says he formed the APC after becoming fed-up with the constant infighting within the PAC. He says the APC will continue to stand for socialism and pan-Africanism.

Of course for the PAC, there has been a shift of seismic proportions. Robert Sobukwe's party is now sitting with its former leader, Motsoko Pheko, as its only member in parliament, and looks like it is in its death throes. The PAC leadership has rejected the view that the party is about to die.

Centre for Policy Studies analyst Ebrahim Fakir believes there is no credible opposition emerging just yet. Instead, he asks the question: does Godi's new party have the "potential" to create a black alternative to the ANC?

"The APC has not spelt out its ideology or its policy programme. We simply do not know which pool they're competing in," says Fakir.

He says that it may only be known after a few years what the APC stands for as it develops its identity and "policy trajectory". The strength of the party would also depend on its ability to set up branch structures and its organisational hierarchy. Fakir says the APC's success will depend much on its ability to organise and use finances at its disposal. The party also has to initiate an engagement with the community.

The other question around the APC is, to what extent its formation has been brought about with the consultation of voters. Time will tell whether Godi is taking his constituency along with him in making his decision to form his new party, says Fakir. One question that Godi will have to answer successfully and "cogently" to voters is why he defected. Voters would be asking him questions such as: "why did you not fix the PAC?"

"All these things are open questions. There is no indication yet of the sustainability and viability of the party," says Fakir.

Another issue likely to confront the APC is how it plans to identify itself, even though Godi says he is committed to socialism and pan-Africanism. Will Godi "rehash" the old Africanist idea, along the lines of "Black Consciousness". Fakir says this relates to the "vexing question" of who is an African. Will Godi use the generic term or will it include those who have a European outlook but are committed to the continent's development?

Fakir argues that for the "foreseeable short-term", the ANC will continue to rule and its domination will continue. Part of the ruling party's strength is that its members are engaged in all the "real policy debates" in the country. For instance, the party is debating whether a coordinating ministry should be set up in the Presidency on policy issues. None of the other political parties have yet entered this debate, says Fakir.

While there are "fractures" in the ANC, it is unlikely that these will break it up. Fakir believes that any real alternative to the ANC would likely come from within the tripartite alliance.

Institute for a Democratic South Africa analyst Jonathan Faull agrees with Fakir that it is "early days" yet and that the APC still needs to convince voters "it means business". The APC will have to prove that it does not "perpetuate" the PAC's behaviour of infighting and political patronage, argues Faull.

He does not believe that there is any party that could seriously challenge the ANC in the "short and medium term". He argues that any largely black parties would only benefit if the ANC was to come out of its December elective conference deeply divided on key issues, or if the SACP or Cosatu decide to go on their own.

"The fact is that the ANC enjoys the confidence and support of the vast majority of South Africans," said Faull.

He said the track record of parties formed through floor-crossing has been poor, with the exception of Patricia de Lille's Independent Democrats. The APC is not much different from other black parties such as the United Democratic Movement and the National Democratic Convention, except that it has a Black Consciousness slant, says Faull.