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Page last updated at 15:53 GMT, Thursday, 11 December 2008

ANC breakaway scores poll upset

Supporters attend a meeting by former South African Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, wearing T-shirts saying "South African National Congress"
Cope claims to have registered some 430,000 members

Dissidents who left South Africa's governing ANC have taken a third of seats in the Western Cape by-elections.

The Congress of the People won 10 of 27 wards. As it is not formally registered as a political party, its candidates ran as independents. The ANC won three.

The electoral commission barred the ANC from contesting 12 seats because it did not register candidates in time.

The Congress of the People was created this year when ANC members split over the ousting of ex-President Mbeki.

It was the first electoral test for the breakaway party, which plans to challenge the African National Congress (ANC) that has dominated politics since the fall of apartheid in 1994 at next year's general elections.

The Congress of the People (Cope) will be officially launched along with its official policy platform on Tuesday.

Altogether 41 seats in five provinces were contested in Wednesday's municipal by-elections and the other results are expected later.

'Under-estimated'

But the main poll battle took place in Western Cape province, where the ANC has never won an outright majority.

The Democratic Alliance (DA), currently the main opposition, said it was shaking off its reputation as a white party after winning nine seats from the ANC in the province.

Of the eight wards in the city of Cape Town, six were won by independent candidates of Cope and two were won by the DA.

ANC spokesman Jessie Duarte told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme: "The ANC's support base in the Western Cape has always been weak, but it's not weak in eight out of nine provinces in the country."

Political analyst Dr Fredrick Van Zyl Slabbert told the programme: "[The ANC has] under-estimated the extent to which there's been dissatisfaction within the ANC at grassroots level."

But he added that it was not clear how Cope would raise the vast sums of money it needs to contest next year's national elections.

Led by former Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, the breakaway is made up of senior ANC members who left the party after Thabo Mbeki stepped down as president in September, following a power struggle with ANC leader Jacob Zuma.

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