Cope has identity crisis

2009-10-03 13:43

ALMOST a year after the Congress of the People (Cope) burst onto the political scene, the party is struggling to find its feet in the hurly burly of SA politics.

Then its leaders projected it as an alternative to the ANC and the rightful bearer of the legacy of the ANC’s founding fathers and mothers.

But it is unclear from its policy articulations whether this is what the party stands for, or whether it is repositioning itself as a distinct party from the ANC with a completely different political outlook. Nothing better exemplifies this identity crisis than the contradictory views some prominent party leaders have expressed on sensitive issues such as the necessity for affirmative action and black economic empowerment.

It is difficult to see how the party’s position on the contentious issue of labour brokers – that they should be allowed to regulate themselves, as opposed to the ANC’s view that they should be regulated by government – is likely to endear Cope to blue collar workers who have had bad experiences with labour brokers.

Cope president Mosiuoa Lekota says the process of formulating policies and crafting a constitution is under way. Party structures, he says, are discussing draft policy documents. The jury is still out on whether twinning with parties such as the DA before there is internal policy and ideological coherence will help Cope grow.

Political analyst Steven Friedman believes that for any party to pose a serious challenge to the ruling party, it has to appeal to traditional ANC voters.

“The problem with Cope is that they are a party with an identity crisis. It has not been able to work out whether to position itself as the real ANC (as opposed to Jacob Zuma, who is ‘destroying’ it). Then you would expect them to stand up in Parliament and say you are doing X and you should be doing Y,” he says.

However, Friedman believes Cope has created a “new political reality” in that it is the first opposition party since 1994 that is fishing in the same electoral pond as the ANC.

“It is different facing an opposition that is competing for your vote. It may well be that even if Cope is not effective, the ANC is more concerned about what voters think the ruling party was before,” says Friedman.

Lekota says one of his party’s biggest achievements has been to ensure that the ANC’s “inclination to overlook the Constitution has been blunted. Whereas people were reluctant to criticise government, now there is an increasing voice of dissent.” However, there is a perception that the party is sluggish in Parliament, especially when looking at the size of its Parliamentary caucus. It may well be, as one Cope leader put it, that its MPs are still adapting to the opposition benches.

As a result, Cope has often been dwarfed by smaller parties such as Patricia de Lille’s Independent Democrats in Parliament, and has not been as visible as it should be in the provincial legislatures where it is the official opposition.

Whatever strides the party has made so far, it seems that the slow pace with which it has been setting up its branches has not helped it get the most out of municipal by-elections. So far it has won one by-election, in Gauteng’s Ekurhuleni. It has only 10 branches in the entire province, and some attribute the problem to limited financial resources.

Political analyst Prince Mashele believes Cope could face extinction if it does not address problems such as factionalism and leadership squabbles.

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