Mbeki faces prospect of black opposition party

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The Independent Online

Civic groups gathered in Cape Town yesterday to launch the coalition which is to be devoted to fighting rising poverty and unemployment.

Although organisers are not calling it a political party yet, they are following the example of organisations in other countries in the region where civic groups have banded together before founding fully fledged political parties to dislodge long-term ruling parties.

The African National Congress has ruled largely unchallenged since Nelson Mandela became South Africa's first black president in 1994, succeeded by Mr Mbeki five years later.

The official opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) is white-dominated and white-led, and has a paltry 10 per cent of seats in parliament. Mr Mbeki behaves as if the DA does not exist.

But all that could now change with the formation of the new coalition dubbed the "new UDF", a reference to the anti-apartheid United Democratic Front which mobilised 22 years ago and managed to force the white minority government to the negotiating table.

To make matters worse for Mr Mbeki, the "new UDF" is led by the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), an alliance which is also a partner in Mr Mbeki's ruling tripartite coalition. Its third member is the South African Communist Party.

Cosatu has publicly quarrelled with Mr Mbeki over several issues, but most recently there have been strains because he fired his deputy, Jacob Zuma, endorsed by the labour federation as the successor to Mr Mbeki when his second and final term ends in 1999.

Cosatu sees Mr Zuma as being closer to the people and friendly to its policies, unlike Mr Mbeki, who is widely seen as an aloof "liberal intellectual".

Mr Mbeki fired Mr Zuma after he was implicated in a corruption scandal involving his financial adviser, the businessman Schabir Shaik.

Cosatu has called for Mr Zuma's immediate reinstatement and the quashing of corruption charges against him.

The federation says Mr Zuma cannot have a fair trial because of negative publicity.

The ANC has strongly come out against the formation of the new coalition, saying that it does not see the reason why it is being formed since its objectives are the government's prerogative.

"The ANC is capable of resolving the issues ... They should not be making another organisation to do that," said James Ngculu, ANC chairman in the Western Cape region.

The ruling party is not attending the official launch today of the coalition of 72 organisations, when a number of prominent South Africans including the Cosatu President Willie Madisha will speak. Analyst Fanaliso Khumalo said that the ANC is right to stay away because it can see the "fingerprints of a future political party" written all over the project.

"Why should representatives of another political party be invited to attend the launch of another party?" he asked.

Cosatu spokesman Tony Ehrenreich stressed that Cosatu had no plans to pursue a party-political agenda, but could not rule out the possibility that other organisations might want to steer the new coalition in that direction.

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