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Ruling ANC Party Suspends Former South African Defense Minister

The South African ruling party's decision to suspend a former defense minister for threatening to form a breakaway opposition party ahead of next year's general elections has reportedly plunged the party deeper into instability. The African National Congress (ANC) Monday night decided to suspend Mosiuoa Lekota after the former minister met with a leading member of the party, which Lekota described as unable to bridge differences.

The ruling party's National Working Committee reportedly said it would also suspend other dissidents who support Lekota's view, adding that it would not allow its structures to be used for purposes of undermining and betraying the organization. Lekota has accused the ANC of betraying its principles and said followers of ANC leader Jacob Zuma have hijacked the ruling party.

South African political analyst Somadoda Fikeni tells reporter Peter Clottey from the capital, Pretoria that the visible divisions within the ANC have gone well beyond dissent.

"This move was expected. The ANC is trying to assert its discipline, but is quite cautious not to expel Lekota at this stage so that there is still recourse for reconciliation. And it is quite a dilemma for the ANC because many of its members in different branches, which they didn't expect to follow Lekota, seem to be following him. And this in itself has caused a bit of panic -- hence the more reconciliatory stance from the ANC, as well as trying to persuade Bazi Mshilowa, the premier of South Africa's richest province, who resigned in the wake of Mbeki's resignation or being recalled from his position," Fikeni noted.

He said the visible divisions within the rank and file of the ruling ANC party could potentially hurt the party.

"I do think that the kinds of deep divisions and bitterness within the ANC have gone beyond a mere fact of dissent, which is an indication of vibrant democracy and debate within a party into a factionalism which is indicating that there would be a breakaway group that would form a party," he said.

Fikeni said the chances of healing the deep-seated divisions within the ANC are slim.

"I don't think there is any room left now. The public spats and the bitter exchanges do indicate that the breakaway is inevitable. It is a matter of time after the convention itself that you would have a new party being announced, and besides the background to this split is the kinds of divisions that have been plaguing the ANC since the expulsion of Jacob Zuma in 2005 from government. And as such, these divisions were not attended to, so they festered into factionalism of a very deep kind, manifesting themselves in the provinces, in the local municipalities, and in different congresses that are linked to the ANC. So at this stage, it is unlikely that you would have any magic of trying to reverse that trend," Fikeni pointed out.

He said efforts by the leader of the ruling party to call upon deposed President Thabo Mbeki to help with the ANC efforts in next April's general election might not have an impact on healing the party.

"It came a little too late because after savage attacks from the ANC Youth League and from the alliance partners, no one seems to have come to Mbeki's rescue," he said.

Some political observers meanwhile say a splinter group would represent the biggest split in the formerly monolithic ruling ANC, Africa's oldest political party, in 50 years. But they add that a new group would be able to struggle to secure enough funding and get organized ahead of next year's general elections.