The Congress of the People confirmed on Sunday that former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka had officially joined the party, ending months of speculation.

News of Mlambo-Ngcuka's signing up came hard on the heels of businessman and former ANC rising star Saki Macozoma's decision to make public his affiliation to the breakaway party in Port Elizabeth at the weekend.

COPE spokesperson Sipho Ngwema said, while he could confirm Mlambo-Ngcuka's membership, she gave instructions she did not want to talk to journalists at this stage.

Sources close to Mlambo-Ngcuka said that she did not want to attract media attention away from Mvume Dandala, the former Methodist bishop who has just begun campaigning as COPE's presidential candidate.

Mlambo-Ngcuka is understood to have been closely involved in the establishment of COPE, while at the same time avoiding making her association with the ANC breakaway grouping public.

She resigned as deputy president of the country soon after former president Thabo Mbeki was recalled and forced to step down.

Meanwhile, speculation is still rife about the position of Limpopo Premier Sello Moloto.

While COPE revealed eight of its nine premier candidates at the weekend, none was named for Limpopo - fuelling rumours that it would be Moloto.

But Moloto's spokesperson Phillimon Sape denied that the premier had crossed the floor.

"This (rumour) has been going on for the past month. He hasn't joined COPE, until he himself tells us to release a statement. As far as we are aware, he is still the premier and a member of the ANC," Sape said.

Macozoma said he deliberately delayed his defection to COPE to avoid accusations that the party is a vehicle for angry Mbeki allies.

Macozoma, after months of speculation and denials, was finally named as a member in Port Elizabeth, where presidential candidate Dandala went on his first walk-about and addressed a rally.

"I wanted it to be clear that COPE was formed by people who want a new agenda, not a situation where Mbeki's allies are organising people against the ANC. If I had been prominent earlier, that accusation would have been made," Macozoma said.

The ANC previously accused Macozoma of funding COPE and there have been growing calls for his expulsion from the ruling party.

Macozoma said one of the reasons he decided to come out publicly was that he was finally convinced that the ANC has deviated from the ideals for which it was formed.

"It is important for people to have a feeling of a grassroots response to a serious political problem: the deviation of the ANC from the ideals of the movement."

Macozoma said COPE was not, as some would like to believe, a platform for careerists who want to use it to get back to the "feeding trough".

"I do not believe so. COPE has brought together a lot of people who had nothing to do with the ANC.

"The problems in the ANC leadership have brought out young people who share a sense of outrage for the behaviour of the ANC leaders," he said.

Macozoma dismissed "tribalist" assertions that COPE, through its nomination of Dandala as presidential candidate, could be entrenching the notion that only Xhosas were capable to lead.

"If there is an injunction that Xhosas need not apply , that would be tribalist."

The former political prisoner, who spent time on Robben Island, said he did not believe that his massive business interests would be in danger, since he had come out as a COPE member; this in the wake of troubles that have befallen others once their links to COPE became known.