blood on the floor

The knives are out and blood is already being spilt on the floor in the battle for the soul of the ANC.

The knives are out and blood is already being spilt on the floor in the battle for the soul of the ANC.

The party leaders and their allies have been the ones firing the most salvos, spitting out names such as "donkeys, dogs and black Democratic Alliance" against former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota and members of his "alliance of the disgruntled".

These labels are laden with the political disdain the new ANC leadership and its allies in Cosatu and the SACP want to display towards Lekota and his supporters.

The intention is to try and show the public, as well as ANC members, that Lekota and his ilk are nothing but forces aimed at undermining the ANC as a ruling party with the interests of the South African majority at heart.

The danger, of course, is that words are like a double-edged sword. If not used carefully they could lead to one cutting off one's own nose to spite one's face.

As political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi points out, labelling Lekota's soon-to-be launched breakaway party the "Black DA" could have a positive - or deleterious - effect on those uttering them.

In the first instance the label could be interpreted to mean that Lekota's party must be seen as a majority black party aimed, just like the DA, at undermining the ANC - a party that is committed to improving the lives of the black majority.

This will not augur well for Lekota because it reduces his initiative to being a party aimed at reversing the gains the ANC achieved in improving the lives of many South Africans.

Crudely put, the aim is to show that the Lekota party will be a party of the elite who have contrasting aspirations to those of the majority of ANC supporters.

On the other hand the label could also work to Lekota's advantage in that it could be seen to be uttered out of fear. The fear that Lekota's party might dislodge the DA to become the second most popular party in the country.

This would not go down well with the ANC's intention of showing the Shikota initiative as nothing but an angry and unsustainable reaction to a loss of power by certain individuals.

If this happens, calling the Shikota initiative "a black DA" would amount to the ANC shooting itself in the foot.

What this means is that whoever is engaged in this fight for the soul of the ANC must be careful of what they say.

But the bigger challenge is for both parties - the ANC and Lekota's faction - to deal with their differences in a manner that will not marginalise the voters.

Such a situation could lead to apathy among voters, who might liken the strife with a fight between disaffected spouses who have filed for divorce.

How the two spouses handle the divorce proceedings will eventually decide who gets custody over which children.

Casting poisonous aspersions at each other could lead to a situation in which the children decide not to take sides but wait for the parties to resolve their dispute amicably.

The voter apathy that could stem from this is a situation both parties would prefer to avoid.

So the challenge for the ANC is to handle the matter in a manner that does not confirm the allegations Lekota has made against them - of undermining internal democracy, a freedom to express opposing views.

Throwing labels such as "enemies of the revolution" and "dogs" at dissidents will not do their cause to efficiently deal with internal fissures any good.

On the other hand Lekota's faction must guard against the euphoria created around them by the media.

This could lead to their overestimating their support and relevance - a situation that could be inimical to their efforts to build a new party in such a short time.

It takes sweat and pain to build a new party - more especially one that wants to challenge an established party such as the ANC.

So far the majority of Lekota's supporters are from the middle class. The challenge will be to win a huge chunk of the traditional ANC supporters from within the party.

How successful the new party can do that will determine whether it gets votes that might perhaps see it dislodging the DA and become the new official opposition.

It is indeed a tall order.