Watershed moment for Lekota

2010-05-30 10:42

The Congress of the People (Cope) is facing an imminent split after

its leader, Mosiuoa ­Lekota, won a crucial court bid yesterday to halt a

conference which would, in effect, have ended his political career.

On Friday night Cope Youth Movement national secretary Malusi Booi

said a Congress ­National Committee (CNC) ­decision to turn this weekend’s

elective conference – which would have pitted Lekota against his deputy,

Mbhazima Shilowa – into a policy one was taken to ­defer the ­unavoidable


“The split within the party is inevitable. We would just have

postponed it by agreeing to the compromise,” said Booi, a ­Shilowa


There was even talk last night that Lekota – who had earlier in the

day taken the party to court and won – should be expelled from Cope.

This was confirmed later when the conference passed a vote of no

confidence in him.

Cope MP Mluleki George announced at the conference yesterday that

the South Gauteng High Court had ruled in favour of Lekota. “What this means is

that Mosiuoa Lekota is no longer our president,” George said.

Another Cope leader, Onkgopotse JJ Tabane, said Lekota and Cope MP

Phillip Dexter were no longer part of the CNC or the Congress Working


The CNC is the second-highest decision-making body between Cope

conferences, while the Congress Working Committee manages the daily affairs of

the party.

Lekota was addressing his own supporters at an adjacent venue when

George made the ­announcement.

The drama began when Cope general secretary Charlotte Lobe tabled

the CNC decision to delegates attending the conference, with Eastern Cape Cope

­interim leader Andile Nkuhlu and party MP Thozamile Botha backing her.

But delegates – who argued that they had travelled to St George’s

Hotel to attend an ­elective conference, not a policy gathering – rejected the

CNC ­decision, paving the way for ­Shilowa to take over.

Willie Madisha, a Cope MP aligned to the Lekota faction, was seen

on Friday night remonstrating with Shilowa.

He claimed Lekota’s supporters were ambushed, saying: “What is

happening is painful.”

On Friday night Lekota stormed out of the conference. Yesterday he

approached the South Gauteng High Court, ­demanding that the election of Shilowa

be stopped.

Judge Motsamai Makume granted Lekota the interdict and delayed the

elective conference for four months.

Speaking to reporters outside the court, a jubilant Lekota said the

interdict was “a victory for the party. We want to give all our members a proper

platform to elect whomever they want”.

Cope’s Dexter, who accompanied Letoka to court, said: “The Shilowa

Express has been completely derailed.”

Members of Parliament and provincial legislatures who supported

Lekota would have faced a purge if Lekota’s faction had failed to interdict the

conference. Nkuhlu said that Friday’s decision would “have implications” for

public representation.

But he said the problems ­facing the party required a political

rather than legal solution.

Nkuhlu told City Press after George adjourned the conference on

Friday night that the ­decision amounted to “a political rejection of


“We tried to find the middle ground, but in the end the ­damage

inflicted on the party by its highest official was such that we felt we cannot

have another day with him,” he said.

“No amount of court litigation will restore that integrity and

confidence in him. It’s a watershed moment in the history of our young party in

which members’ voices and democracy were ­restored.”

An angry Northern Cape ­delegation which had not been ­accredited

to attend the conference broke the glass door at the main entrance while they

were trying to force their way into the conference. Police stopped them from


The fight between Shilowa and Lekota for control of the party has

been brewing since the formation of Cope in Bloemfontein in December 2008, when

party leaders opted to make ­Lekota party president despite the clamour from the

majority of the provinces for Shilowa to lead.

A delegation from KwaZulu-Natal, which had said it would not attend

an elective conference, staged a walkout.

Their leader, Bheki Khusi, said: “We were told this is a policy

conference; hence we are here. These people ambushed us.

“The precedent they are ­setting here will haunt our party forever.

It means people who are numerically strong can sway the direction of the party.

We left the ANC because of this. We are shocked to find this behaviour in the

Congress of the People.”

But Khusi said they would not split from the organisation as they

considered it to be their ­political home.

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