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South African National Convention Under Way


A two-day national convention convened by former leaders of the ruling African National Congress is under way in Johannesburg. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from the convention, it is likely to lead to a call for a formation of a new political party.

Some 6,000 exuberant and vocal South Africans, most of them traditional supporters of the ruling African National Congress, came to the Sandton Convention Center to register their support for the formation of a new political party.

Most have already resigned their membership in the ANC, or by their attendance have ensured that they will be expelled, as promised earlier this week by ANC President Jacob Zuma. Out on the stump in KwaZulu/Natal Saturday, Zuma said those leaving the party were poisonous snakes.

In welcoming delegates, co-convenor and former ANC chairman, Mosiuoa Lekota said the current leaders of the ruling party are abusing their power to advance their personal interests and those of their supporters.

"The issue before our nation is whether we will have, we will put power in the hands of men and women who are committed to sustaining this constitution or not," he said. "That the issue. If the issue confronting the people of this country must rather be watered down or sustained, I say the majority of them will vote for a party that seeks to sustain that constitution."

The catalyst for the breakaway movement was the ousting of former South African President Thabo Mbeki by Zuma just months before his term of office ended. The ANC said it had lost confidence in him following a court ruling in which the judge said the ongoing corruption investigation against Zuma may have been politically motivated.

Even before a new party has been formally agreed or a political platform adopted, it is clear the new party will seek to change the current proportional electoral system and to directly elect the president of the country.

Barney Pityana, rector of the University of South Africa and former head of the statutory Human Right's Commission, tells VOA the system no longer meets the needs of the country because the trust inherent in the system is being betrayed by the current ANC leadership.

"The responsibility of the political leaders whom we trust because we elect them, I guess, is never to betray that trust," said Pityana. "And part of that trust is based on their real commitment to the constitution and to enhancing our democracy, not just by word but also by deed."

"I have said that there are certain developments in the country that really completely betray that trust in our country today. The first one is a culture of intolerance and violence, violent language and intimidation, that clearly has become in the stock-in-trade of the ANC of our time," he added.

Several opposition parties also sent delegates to the convention - most had encouraging words for the new movement. Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, celebrating his 80th birthday in KwaZulu/Natal said in a statement sent to the convention that South Africa's democracy is ailing and that the people of South Africa have been forgotten by the African National Congress.

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