papering the cracks at luthuli house

Eric Naki

Eric Naki

The post-Polokwane ANC leadership has been forced by circumstances to come to its senses after displaying a "don't care-for-the-consequences" attitude towards talk about a possible split in the party.

Gwede Mantashe, in his trade union-like approach, has been dismissive to the extent of even encouraging or forcing the split. And the response of Jeff Radebe, the ANC's head of policy, chastising Mosiuoa Lekota for his open letter, did not help the situation.

For Radebe to say Lekota's action "was the last kick of a dying horse" disappointed many within and outside of the ANC, for they never expected such a response from him.

Not long after this public spat, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who does not shy away from talking the truth to anyone, announced that he would not vote in next year's election if the ANC did not heal itself, and he further said that the ANC should extend an olive branch to those it has isolated for being supporters of former president Thabo Mbeki.

New reports are that Luthuli House wants to use Mbeki to campaign for the ANC in the 2009 elections.

It is true that since Polokwane the ANC has been drifting into unfamiliar territory where strangers to the organisation's culture have come to the fore.

Few in the party are prepared to appreciate that if Mbeki marginalised certain members in government, the new leadership could not repeat the same mistake now that they are in power.

The ANC's U-turn on its "dissidents" could land it on a collision course with its Left allies who, as the UDM's Bantu Holomisa observed this week, are at the centre of the current conflict and divisions within the ANC.

From Cosatu's pronouncement in September last year on "preferred" ANC NEC leadership prior to Polokwane - to the SACP's call for economic policy changes and the concerted media campaign against Mbeki by the Young Communists and ANC Youth League's leaders, the Left has had an upper hand throughout the process. What the Left wanted became ANC law at the end of the day.

The change of tone by Luthuli House shows panic over the prospect of a strong political party that could emerge from an ANC split.

Interestingly, in Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Limpopo and other parts of the country, ordinary members of the ANC, including Mbeki's mother Epainette, are pushing for the breakaway.

Radio talk shows and letters to the newspapers clearly indicate growing disillusionment with the current ANC leadership.

Those ANC members who recently joined Holomisa's UDM could not wait any longer, believing that consultation towards the establishment of the mooted political party was taking too long.

Since Mbeki's unceremonious recall by the NEC, there were several stages when Mantashe and some at Luthuli House appeared to have adopted the attitude of "let them go, the ANC will not die".

It was a mistake that undermines the fact that people have been searching for an alternative to the ANC since the divisions first manifested themselves in the party.

The question is whether the ANC will choose to sacrifice its tried and tested cadres such as Lekota, Ronnie Kasrils, Mluleki George, Essop Pahad, Mbhazima Shilowa, Sydney Mufamadi and many others in order to satisfy the personal interests of certain vengeful individuals?

Lekota and company are not some expelled individuals - as happened with Holomisa prior to his forming the UDM with Roelf Meyer a few years ago - but party heavyweights who, if they break away, could easily change South Africa's political landscape.

If the ANC were to wither away after all this, it would have died because of Mantashe's actions. His failure to understand the broad-church nature of the ANC could well cost the party at the polls. That the ANC is a broad-church movement should a be a good enough reason for one of its leaders to act cautiously when dealing with perceived "opponents" in the party.

But since Polokwane Mantashe has been doing the opposite, forgetting that his new position required him to strike a balance between his radicalism and the accommodating nature that a secretary-general needs to adopt.

However, although it would be bad for the ANC, the idea of a new political alternative to the ANC would be good for our democracy.

It will strengthen debate and force the ruling party to act with care and responsibility both as a government and as a political party.

They will be forced to look over their shoulder all the time and parliamentary processes would never be the same again as MPs would object to being used to rubber stamp decisions.

Such a democratic development will help to end the belief that the "ANC will rule until Jesus comes back".

Let a new political party come - for the sake of our democracy.