Coping with yet more chaos, delay

2010-12-17 00:00

Nalini Naidoo continues her diary of theCope congress

Reconciliaton Day,December 16


AS midnight heralded the start of South Africa’s public holiday celebrating reconciliation, all hell broke loose at the fractious Cope conference. Registration of delegates carried on well into the night. By 9 pm registration moved from the venue in Centurion, because a wedding was due to take place there, to the Heartfelt Arena in Pretoria, the actual conference venue.

A short while later founding president Mosiuoa Lekota, the leader of one faction, attempted to address the crowd. He was booed by supporters of his deputy, Mbazima Shilowa, and all hell broke loose. Chairs went flying and delgates got involved in physical fights. Two KZN delegates were taken to hospital, where they were treated and discharged. It is believed that 11 others were similarly injured. As a result, the registration process completely collapsed and the Cope central commiittee was forced to rely on provincial leaders checking lists.

By the next morning the seating at the Heartfelt Arena was re-arranged with the Lekota faction on one side and the Shilowa group on the other, separated by a spacious no-man’s land. There was a large police presence throughout the day and at one stage a security chief briefed journalists about an escape route via the back of the stage in case things got ugly.

The Lekota section looked packed, and their opponents alleged they had rented a crowd. During the posturing and singing on both sides the Shilowa faction waved their IDs singing, “we are valid — are you?”

B.y 2.30 pm the Cope central committee was meeting and it was decided to complete the registration process and start the formal introduction of the conference. Thereafter all delegates would have to leave the hall. They would then be allowed in once their names had been checked aganst the accredited list. Once they were all in the voting would start. None of this happened by 6.30 pm, so delegates were preparing for another long night. However, they are adamant that they are not leaving without voting. It turns out that yesterday was D-Day for for the current Cope leadership. According to the Cope constitution their term of office ended at midnight.

How ironic that the Cope conference was held in a religious convention centre. On the stage overlooking the arena is a large crucifix with a dove sculptured on the cross-bar. Right across the road from the conference centre looms the Voortrekker Monument and yesterday President Jacob Zuma was in Pretoria commemorating Reconciliation Day with members of the South African National Defence Force.

It’s easy to feel utterly forlorn, but I remind myself that this is all the birth pangs of a young democracy. What I found uplifting was the 2 000 stoic Cope delegates who were adamant that they were going to exercise their right to vote for their new leaders. To do this they stood in torrential rain, faced hunger because of inadequate meals and slept in buses or in the hall.

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