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Former defence minister to head ANC breakaway faction

Latest update : 2008-12-17

The South African Congress of the People (COPE), launched by defectors from the ruling African National Congress Party (ANC), named former Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota as president during its two-day founding meeting.

AFP - Defectors from South Africa's ruling African National Congress who are launching a breakaway faction said Monday there was no turning back in the run-up to next year's elections.

"The ANC more than anybody else should know that there is no possibility of us going back, we are now looking forward to the elections," said Mosiuoa "Terror" Lekota, the new party's interim chairman.

"Even if some of us do decide to rejoin the ANC, that will not mean an end of the party... it will always be there," said Lekota.

The Congress of the People (COPE) will be officially launched at a rally Tuesday where it will announce its top leadership. It is also holding a two-day conference to iron out an election campaign and formally adopt policies.

The movement has attracted scores of supporters from the ANC ranks and could emerge as a critical challenger in the 2009 polls, with new research showing that it could dent the ruling party's two-thirds majority rule.

"The impact on the ANC in light of the introduction of a new political party could be that support for the ANC in the 2009 election could decline to below 60 percent," research house Ipsos-Markinor said after polling 3,500 people.

The party was formed after several high profile ANC and government members quit following the ruling party's ouster of then president Thabo Mbeki from office.

The formation of the party has been marked by intense confrontation with ANC supporters and junior political partners who have disrupted party meetings and fired verbal attacks against the breakaway faction.

On Tuesday, the day COPE holds its official launch rally, the ANC will hold a parallel gathering in Bloemfontein which will be addressed by party leader Jacob Zuma.

The new party's name has also been the subject of a fierce court battle with the ANC, which accuses the defectors of laying claim to an historic meeting in the 1950s.

Bloemfontein, situated in the heartland of the country, holds significant historic memories as the ANC birthplace in 1912.

The new COPE party said it chose that city as a reminder of principles that the ANC has abandoned.

"The ANC has veered off the principles and values that laid the foundation of the party.... We want to revive those ideals and lead our people to a better future," said interim general secretary Charlotte Lobe.

The movement marks a dramatic shake-up in South African politics, which have been dominated by the ANC since it defeated apartheid and won election for Nelson Mandela as the country's first black president.

Splits emerged when ANC ousted Mbeki from the presidency in September, following a long-running power struggle with Zuma.

Lekota, who was defence minister under Mbeki, on Monday said reconciliation with the ANC was not a possibility.

"Zuma should know better than anyone else that we are not coming back," he said.

Date created : 2008-12-16