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New party enters South Africa's treacherous political waters

Monday, May 13, 2013    

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AFP) — The launch of South Africa's latest political party is evidence both of the unease at the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and of just how much it will take to unseat the party of Nelson Mandela.

Every party entering South Africa's treacherous political waters has ambitions of unseating the ANC.

The South Africa First party is no different.

Recently founded by disgruntled ex-combatants from the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, they have vowed to become a "credible alternative for the masses".

Tapping into a rich sea of anger, its leaders say they have been spurred into action by the ANC's betrayal of its anti-apartheid values.

In particular they cite persistently high unemployment and corruption among the Government and ANC cadres.

"Freedom that came in 1994 was just the beginning. The ANC has failed to take the nation forward," co-founder Eddie Mokhoanatse told AFP.

"The ANC has lost its way, it has been sidetracked by the trappings of wealth distributed to the politically connected elite, while the majority languish in poverty."

One in four South Africans is currently unemployed, with that ratio much higher for young black men, who should make up the backbone of the economy.

The South Africa First party is armed with a 'National Prosperity Strategy' that seeks to distribute the mineral wealth of the country to the people and boost entrepreneurship.

South Africa First has vowed to provide quality education, improve access to health care and fight corruption.

Those are policies that may resonate deeply with disgruntled ANC supporters, mainly poor blacks who are at the receiving end of inadequate Government services.

As ex-members of Umkhonto we Sizwe South Africa First's leaders also have the "struggle credentials" that are a prerequisite for getting along in South African politics.

The armed group was founded by Mandela in 1961 and was disbanded in 1993 ahead of multi-party elections.

Its veterans still wield enormous influence within the ANC structures and many members have been integrated into the national army or hold senior positions in Government, including President Jacob Zuma.

But for South Africa First, that may not be enough.

"They are definitely not going to be game changers," said political analyst Aubrey Mtshiqi.

"There is nothing about them that suggests that they are going to effect change or even win some votes, although they are raising some important issues in their mission statement," he said.

They are finding out what many before them have learned the hard way.

Even denting the support of the party credited with ending decades of apartheid rule has proved to be a mammoth task.

Before the 2009 elections one-time-ANC big-wig Mosiuoa Lekota — a prison mate of Mandela — defected to form the Congress of the People.

They garnered just seven per cent of the vote.

And although Mokhoanatse is confident about winning seats, the party has yet to register with the Independent Electoral Commission, a move which requires 500 signatures.

Another new player who recently announced plans to take on the ANC is former World Bank managing director and anti-apartheid activist Mamphela Ramphele.

Ramphele, a respected academic, formed Agang South Africa (Build South Africa), early this year, premised along the same values as South Africa First.

She has recently boasted of having some 10,000 volunteers.

That sounds impressive until it is compared against the ANC's roughly 1.2 million members.

And those 1.2 million go on the attack at the slightest hint of a challenge.

Since South Africa First's announcement, the Umkhonto we Sizwe Veterans Association has poured scorned on the new party.

It has attempted to discredit the new rival's founders, particularly Mokhoanatse, describing him as a disgraced "sellout" who left the ANC in the 1980s while in exile.

The ANC jealously guards its historical legacy. With each election, the party uses its struggle credentials to trounce opponents and remind the people about the atrocities of apartheid.

That has helped the party sweep all post-apartheid polls and win nearly two -thirds of votes in the last national election.

But that is unlikely to stop new players from challenging their predominance.

— AFP Writer

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