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Breakaway Party from South Africa's Ruling ANC Appears Certain

The formation of a breakaway party from South Africa's ruling African National Congress appears certain, following the resignation of a senior official. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our Johannesburg bureau a conference next month is likely to be the launching pad for the new body.

The former premier of Gauteng, the country's richest province, has resigned from the ANC to become convener of what is being billed as national consultative convention to be held November 2. Mbhazima Shilowa, who resigned as premier following the recall by the ANC of then President Thabo Mbeki, urged South Africans to participate in the convention, which he said could lead to the formation of a new political party.

"As I join others in forging a new path I call on men and women of all races, young and old, inside and outside and the ANC to, in their own way, volunteer their services and resources to ensure a successful national convention," Shilowa said.

Shilowa's resignation follows the earlier suspension of Mosiuoa Lekota and Mluleke George by the ANC, prompted by their public campaigning for a national convention even though they stopped short of announcing a breakaway party.

Shilowa says the convention will discuss the state of South Africa's democracy and look at the need for changing the country's political system. He said it might be time for a system in which voters directly elect the president. He also said in the current proportional representation system, the interests of the people are often subjugated to the interests of political parties - leaving the electorate feeling powerless.

"Such a sense of helplessness, must surely implore us to discuss whether the time has not come to consider the introduction of constituencies for national and provincial legislatures," Shilowa said. "This will not only reduce the distance between public representatives and the electorate, and ensure accountability, but will also give real meaning to the call in the Freedom Charter, that the people shall govern."

Meanwhile ANC President Jacob Zuma, whose ouster of Mbeki as president of South Africa last month became the catalyst for open dissent in the party, said life outside the party for dissenters would become very cold. He said the ANC is not a liberal party that allows public criticism from within its ranks.

"No individual member is bigger than the ANC, we would like to warn all who intend to join the campaign to undermine and divide the ANC, we will act very decisively to rid the movement of factionalism," Zuma said.

Analysts have mixed views about the long term viability of a breakaway party, some say it would have little chance of survival while others disagree, saying those who are behind it are capable of driving it over the long term. But most agree that recent developments have injected fresh life into South African politics and will make next year's general election very interesting.