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World Focus: Mbeki foresaw a split – but not this sort of split

In the early 1990s, before he was president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki predicted the ruling African National Congress would split when the country's politics had normalised.

Mr Mbeki argued that the main component of the ANC would remain as a social democratic party, while its left component, together with the trade unions and the Communist Party, would form a left party.

Before the ANC's left components – the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party – in one last gamble in 2005, decided to rally behind Jacob Zuma, in an attempt to change the direction of the ANC, each of them had already resolved to join forces and form a party of the left.

Both the memberships of Cosatu and the SACP resolved in 2005 to form a new party if they could not sway the ANC to become more pro-poor. However, when Mr Mbeki fired Mr Zuma for corruption in 2005, the latter joined forces with the leaders of the unions and Communist party, and signed a pact that instead of them forming their own party, they should back him (Mr Zuma) for the ANC presidency, and he would in turn make the ANC more pro-poor.

As the ANC plunges into its worst crisis since the end of formal apartheid in 1994, the absence of an effective opposition in South Africa remains one of the biggest shortcomings of the country's infant democracy.

The main reason why the ANC under Mr Mbeki has been so complacent, and why Mr Mbeki was ultimately forced out, is because the party had no opposition to fear that could dislodge it if it messed up. Only when a ruling party faces the real prospect of losing an election, will South Africa's politics be infused with the electoral dynamism the country so desperately needs to renew its faltering democracy and provide a better life for its people.

The forced removal of Mr Mbeki by his party, with only six months before his term ends when a general election takes place, has raised the spectre of some of his supporters forming a new political party. Some of the ANC supporters unhappy with Mr Zuma at the head of the party have threatened not to vote for the ANC in next year's general election. However, if the ANC breaks, it will not be the way Mr Mbeki and other senior ANC leaders have thought. It appears now that the left component will be in charge of the mainstream ANC, and the mainstream centrists rallied around Mr Mbeki are considering forming another party.

Ultimately, the best solution for South Africa is the breaking away of the ruling ANC tripartite alliance into a centre-left faction, and its left faction, and the assortment of current opposition parties on the centre-right.

William M Gumede is the author of Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC