By Moshoeshoe Monare

Cyril Ramaphosa, a senior member of the ANC, has warned dissidents against leaving the party, reminding them that he bore "scars" and had endured seven "uncomfortable" years within the party under Thabo Mbeki.

In an interview with reporters, the businessman said his former comrades - Mosiuoa Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa, will have to deal with perceptions that they want to cling to power at all costs.

"They went to Polokwane, contested elections under a particular ticket. They campaigned very hard for that ticket to win. And the way of democracy is to accept that there can be one winner.

"Now they give the impression that they like to lead. They don't want to be led. For me that is a serious indictment," he said.

The former party secretary-general broke his silence for the first time about his "uncomfortable" years in the ANC after he and other party leaders - Mathews Phosa and Tokyo Sexwale - were accused of plotting to kill Mbeki in 2001.

He said they were accused of "executing a coup against the very organisation that we love and the very order that we worked so hard for.

Now, after we were accused, the matter was never discussed in the ANC, there was never a forum where we were given an opportunity to ventilate our views.

"Nobody ever came to our support and the matter remained undiscussed for seven years. But we never left the organisation.

"And any one of the three of us could have had good cause to say we are leaving the organisation because, during this period, I must tell you, we were not that comfortable in the organisation. So, we bear scars and many members in the ANC bear scars," he said.

Nelson Mandela preferred Ramaphosa to succeed him, but others in the ANC wanted Mbeki.

Ramaphosa, whose name emerged during 2007's succession battle, revealed that he stayed away because of the fierce contest between Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, the then ANC deputy president.

"I was not going to enter the fray when we had two leaders of our organisation contesting the position of president of the ANC.

"It was wrongly reported that I would not stand because Thabo was running.

"I am enjoying myself in business. That's where I would like to remain".

Ramaphosa said the ANC was bigger than individuals and their grievances.

"I joined the ANC, I did not join an individual, I did not join because of an individual I don't believe that there is any amount of a grievance that could make anybody just leave in a huff.

"In the end these comrades have to deal with this perception that they just want to lead continuously. They must also deal with the perception that they joined the ANC because of somebody else," he said.

The former mineworkers' union leader said dissidents were "being driven by this anger and bitterness" and they were bound to make mistakes: "They seem to have embarked on an irrevocable road now to form their own party. They appear to be gaining momentum, but it is like a false dawn," he said.

Shilowa and Lekota could not be reached for comment on Saturday.

Ramaphosa said the ANC would win elections despite the new party, but tacitly cautioned his comrades to focus on the campaign message and not insult the dissidents.

"Our view is that that's the message that should go out, rather than this one is whisky-drinking or whatever," he said, but admitted that "politicians will be politicians".

Ramaphosa said the ANC post-Polokwane was "almost like a breath of fresh air" where there "are no holy cows".

"Polokwane was like a democratic watershed. That was when the ANC confirmed to all and sundry that it is truly a democratic organisation that is controlled by the grassroots," he said

He defended the ANC's recall of Mbeki as a sign of democratic maturity and "applauded" the former president for abiding by the decision.

Asked about militant utterances by ANC leaders and Julius Malema, the Youth League president, which have irked leaders within and outside the party, Ramaphosa said they were reacting to "situations", especially how Zuma was treated.

Ramaphosa said the ANC would engage Archbishop Desmond Tutu about his concerns that had led him to publicly announce that he would not vote.

"I am concerned when I hear Archbishop Desmond Tutu make such a statement. That is a drastic decision on his part, to say that he will not vote for the ANC because of that."