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African National Congress Split Looms

Former African National Congress chairperson Mosiuoa Lekota is planning a conference to discuss what he says are serious departures by the current ANC leadership from the party's core principles and the country's constitution. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from Johannesburg, Lekota says his plans will likely lead to a split in South Africa's ruling party.

After weeks of speculation, Mosiuoa Lekota has publicly announced plans that are likely to lead to a split in the African National Congress. He told a media conference a split seems inevitable.

"Sir, it seems that we are serving today, divorce papers. This is probably the parting of the ways, it probably is. We hope that sense may still prevail in others to review their position, if not there is no going back," he said.

Lekota was chairperson of the ANC for 10 years, until last December, and was the country's defense minister until resigning two weeks ago. He said that for some time ANC leaders have subjugated the principles in the ANC founding document, the Freedom Charter, and the national constitution to personal interest.

Lekota said they have forgotten the price South Africans paid for those principles.

"We paid the price for these principles in the [Freedom] Charter, we paid the price in exile, we paid the price underground in this country, we paid the price on Robben Island and other places. Then many of our comrades have died for these principles, it would be a betrayal on our part not to rise to defend the legacy they left us," he said.

Lekota said the recent axing of former President Thabo Mbeki was the the final straw.

But in a thinly veiled reference to ANC president, Jacob Zuma, he said ANC leaders are fostering tribalism and ignoring important demands of the charter and constitution, such as equality before the law. The ANC has called for a political solution to the potential corruption charges against Zuma.

"What has happened to the clause in the freedom charter, 'all shall be equal before the law?' If one deviates from that clause are we then going to have political solutions for each and every criminal case that arises in this nation. Or is it only for this particular individual, or that other individual. If so, who is deviating from the Freedom Charter," he said.

Lekota is a long standing member of the ANC who first came to prominence during the student protests of 1976. He was jailed on Robben Island for his political activities and was a founding member of the United Democratic Front after his release from the island in the 1980s.

The UDF became the internal wing of the ANC and was responsible for revitalizing the organization within the country. It has fallen into the doldrums in the 1960s, after it was outlawed and leaders like Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo were jailed or exiled.

People who know him well have previously told VOA that he is a highly principled democrat. Some have said that of all the senior figures in the ANC, he is most like former President Nelson Mandela in his commitment to the core principles of the party's Freedom Charter which is the sub-text of the national constitution.

Lekota says he has appealed privately and publicly to the ANC leadership to rethink its current positions on issues of principle and said if they do he will review his own plans. Party treasurer Matthews Phosa says he plans to meet with Lekota on Thursday to try to keep the marriage intact.

There has been negative reaction from others in the ANC and its partners, but widespread approval from opposition parties.