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South Africa’s ANC Takes a Hit from Departing Ex-Communications Chief

The current infighting within South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) party took another dramatic turn Thursday after the former head of communications resigned from the ranks to join the new breakaway political party. Smuts Ngonyama says he was upset with the ANC's disrespect of authority and values when South Africa's former President Thabo Mbeki was forced to step down. The ruling party forced Mbeki to leave office for allegedly influencing graft charges against party president Jacob Zuma. The move angered Mbeki loyalists, who revolted to form a new political party to challenge the ANC in next year's general elections. From South Africa's capital, Pretoria, Smuts Ngonyama tells reporter Peter Clottey that all attempts to reconcile with the ANC proved futile.

"My reasons are very simple. The ANC is like a family. It actually teaches you to be able to see things that are wrong even within itself. And once you feel that there is absolutely nothing that you can do, you feel that you need to leave. So that is what has happened with me. I felt that maybe it is necessary for me to move on with my life and join the new party because there are certain fundamental values that our predecessors within the ANC taught us. So I felt that I wouldn't want to undermine or sort of let them be trampled upon by young people. For instance, respect for the offices of authority and respect for members of our society broadly and respect for our revolution in general," Ngonyama pointed out.

He denied his action betrayed the confidence the ruling ANC party reposed in him.

"The betrayal is actually those that believe that they hold you hostage, because ANC gave you so much in terms of experience. However, people forget that we joined the ANC at a time when it was not funny and when it was not easy to join under the struggle, and we are prepared to die for the liberation of our country. However, if we believe that, those values that underpin our struggle in nation building that Nelson Mandela launched after 1994 and the values that President Mbeki continued with and the values that our forefathers and predecessors of the ANC reinforced are actually undermined and taken for granted. That is betrayal because if we stay irrespective of this, people would say we are actually accomplices," he said.

Ngonyama said he is not interested in holding a portfolio in the breakaway splinter group from the ruling ANC.

"I have taken this position based on principles and driven by my own conscience, not necessarily really for a position this time round because I have my hands full working on the leadership institute of the former South African President Thabo Mbeki. However, I'm joining the party so that I can lend my shoulder in whatever way, and that would actually make it grow," Ngonyama noted.

He said all attempts to reconcile differences with the rank and file of the ruling ANC party failed.

"We have tried all that, and as you would understand, there were many people who were speculating that I might leave. But I decided to hang on because in me, I was hoping that things are going to change. But there is generally disrespect of the population because we believe that the ANC is very strong and people feel indebted and they feel obliged to vote for the ANC. A party that was given plus or minus two-thirds majority by South Africans, we have to be very careful so that we don't take that mandate and that love for granted to the ANC and some of us are trying to make that statement," he said.

Ngonyama said he is no longer able to tolerate or embrace the recent disrespect of authority in the party and dismissed reports that he was one of the funders of the new party.

Meanwhile, ANC stalwart Fatima Meer has come out in support of the ruling party's splinter group. Endorsing the new movement, Meer said she no longer had faith in the African National Congress. She joins several others who have resigned from the ruling ANC to join the splinter group formed by former defense minister Mosiuoa Lekota and former Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa.