Phosa extends olive branch to rebels

FOCUS OF ATTENTION: Mosiuoa "Terror" Lekota will meet with party's leadership today. Pic. Veli Nhlapo. 08/10/2008. © Sowetan.

Eric Naki

Eric Naki

Only 24 hours after ANC president Jacob Zuma had dismissed the possibility of facing a party formed by disgruntled members, the ANC party's leadership yesterday extended an olive branch to the dissidents.

The firebrand ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa announced that the party would engage its aggrieved members and would not fight with them.

Phosa was reacting to a statement by former ANC chairman Mosiuoa Lekota that he was "serving divorce papers" on the party, implying a plan to break away.

Phosa adopted a conciliatory approach, saying the ANC would try to find an internal solution to the matter.

"We are in the middle of a consultation to see how we can reconcile. If you think that we will throw a stone at Terror, we will disappoint you. We are uniting our members behind the party," said Phosa.

He said he would hold a meeting today with Lekota because the ANC had a duty to give leadership in the matter.

On Tuesday, Zuma told business people that he never paid any attention to reports that disgruntled ANC members wanted to form a splinter party.

"I don't think it will have a long lifespan," Zuma said.

Phosa said today's meeting with Lekota would discuss all the concerns that the former defence minister raised at a press conference yesterday and in an earlier open letter to ANC general-secretary Gwede Mantashe.

He said Lekota and all those aggrieved would be engaged in several meetings to find a solution. He said if the discussions broke down, the ANC would not be accused of not talking to its members.

"Focusing on anger and retribution is not on our agenda. We do not believe that our marriage has irrevocably broken down," Phosa said.

Asked if the ANC would take action against those behind the split, Phosa was even more conciliatory. "We don't think you solve political problems with disciplinary action. We want stability, peace and reconciliation among our people. That is very important for us," he said.

The ANC would not judge Lekota but "we must engage him internally, we must not allow ourselves to be provoked".

"We are not going to get into confrontation with Lekota. We are going to have meetings with him. We are leaders and we are going to behave like leaders," he said.

Surprisingly, Phosa praised Mbeki, who the NEC recently unceremoniously recalled as the country's president. He described Mbeki as a "very senior member of the ANC whom we respect". He said Mbeki would be allowed to continue with his peace missions in Africa.

Phosa also said ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema had been gagged from making public statements insulting people and senior ANC members.