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South Africa's ruling ANC will crack down hard on dissent, its leader Jacob Zuma warned Tuesday as signs grew that the party is headed for a split. The African National Congress said Monday it had decided to suspend former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota after he threatened to form a breakaway group to challenge the party.
That would mark the biggest split in the once monolithic ANC, Africa's oldest political party, for 50 years, and create political uncertainty in the continent's biggest economy.
"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 told a congress of the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa.
"We must also remind the dissidents that history has been extremely unkind to those who break away from the ANC."
Lekota quit as defence minister in protest at the party's ousting of Thabo Mbeki as state president last month, and indicated he may form a new party before next year's general election. Lekota's suspension could make a schism more likely, although analysts say that without heavyweight members such as Mbeki himself, a breakaway group would struggle to pose a real challenge to the ANC.
Mbeki was forced out and replaced by Kgalema Motlanthe after a judge accused him of meddling in a graft case against Zuma. Motlanthe will likely step down after next year's elections and Zuma is expected to take over as president.
Although the ANC is facing the worst crisis in its history, foreign investors are mostly concerned with how the new leadership will manage the economy. Investors are worried that Zuma and Motlanthe, strongly backed by the Communist party and powerful trade unions, may tilt South Africa to the left. Motlanthe has vowed to stick to Mbeki's pro-business policies and swiftly sought to reassure investors by reappointing the popular and respected finance minister, Trevor Manuel.