Cope broke - claim
Sabelo Ndlangisa and Moffet Mofokeng
Johannesburg - The Congress of the People (Cope) is broke and battling to raise funds for its upcoming national elective conference, to be held in the Free State in two weeks’ time.
Infighting over leadership positions between interim president Mosiuoa Lekota and deputy Mbhazima Shilowa has alienated potential funders and their battle threatens the upcoming three-day conference, scheduled to take place at Thaba 'Nchu’s Assemblies of God church from November 5 to 7.
Three party officials said Cope had approached high-profile Gauteng businessmen to help raise funds for the event. Business people who initially funded the party have held back donations and demanded that Cope first solve its leadership squabbles before they pump money into the troubled organisation.
The party’s coffers are so dry that it has been forced to move the conference - initially earmarked to be staged in Gauteng - to the Free State because “there was no available venue in Gauteng to host the event”.
But City Press has found that two conference venues, including St George’s Park, where the party’s previous chaotic conference was held in May, were available to host the event.
Five months after the aborted conference at the Centurion venue, where delegates representing the warring factions caused damage worth an undisclosed amount of money, Cope is yet to settle the more than R2m bill for the St George’s Hotel.
Part of the squabble between Lekota and Shilowa involves funds from Parliament the party used to finance the court case of Cope MPs Dennis Bloem and Lekoba Jack Tolo.
In a week in which intense campaigning for elections started, Lekota demoted Shilowa from his position as the party’s chief whip in Parliament over the alleged misuse of the state’s funding to Cope.
Lekota on Friday confirmed that the party still owed money for delegates’ accommodation and “other related expenditure” for its disastrous May indaba.
Lekota insisted that the party had enough money to hold the upcoming event, but Cope’s national organiser, Mluleki George, confirmed that there was not enough money available to convene a conference.
Cope treasurer Hilda Ndude could not be drawn to comment on the finances of the organisation, saying the matter would be discussed at the party congress working committee meeting. She wouldn’t say when this meeting would take place.
An Eastern Cape source sympathetic to Shilowa said the party had “experienced problems” finding a conference venue in Gauteng.
On Friday George said they had found a venue in Thaba 'Nchu, outside Bloemfontein in Free State.
“Funds must be available and will be available. It is also in our interest that it (the conference) must take place. We can’t go on like this,” he said.
George downplayed the lack of funds and funders.
“Once we have held a conference we won’t have a problem with money. Many people want to fund us, but they want us to do the right thing first and elect leadership.”
Lekota confirmed that the party’s “bad image” had made it difficult for it to raise funds, saying potential funders were “uneasy” and wanted to know “if we have proper systems” in place.
George issued a statement saying the venue for the conference had been paid for, prompting Cope spokesperson Phillip Dexter to hit back, saying George’s comments were “factional”.
Said Dexter: “George claims that the venue for the congress is paid for. If it is, it has been paid for from funds not declared to the party. This kind of factional funding, including paying for membership of branches, is what Cope is opposed to. George will have to account for how the funding was raised for the congress venue.”
Leadership battles continue
The leadership battles are far from over. Lekota accused Shilowa of submitting a fraudulent declaration to Parliament, that the party had proper systems and controls to manage the funds it got from the state. He alleged that the signature of auditor Anton Louw had been forged.
The removal of Shilowa, he said, was not about “fighting an individual” but was aimed at “creating a credible organisation”.
Shilowa said he was not worried that he might face criminal charges.
“I want Terror (Lekota) to prove to any judge that either me or anybody has forged that signature,” he said.