Is there any hope for Cope?

2010-12-14 00:00

WILL the Congress of the People (Cope) rise like a phoenix out of the ashes or will it sink into a morass of mediocrity? This is the burning question as the troubled party attempts for the fourth time to hold an elective congress, starting tomorrow.

A vicious power struggle between Cope leaders Mosiuoa Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa has all but paralysed the party. The bruising battle continues unabated right until the eve of the congress.

The latest salvo is over whether the party should split in two under each of the leaders.

Shilowa has said this was Lekota’s suggestion while Lekota in turn has said talk of a split in Cope is “more tall tales from Shilowa”. However, with the deep rift in the party, no possibility of common ground being found and fears of disruption of the Congress, some members believe the best way forward will be a parting of ways of the two factions.

Currently, the Lekota faction seems to be the stronger as Shilowa’s legal woes mount. The latest setback for Shilowa is a ruling by the chairperson of the disciplinary tribunal established by the Cope caucus in Parliament that the disciplinary hearing against him must continue.

Shilowa had argued that in terms of the Cope constitution, the caucus does not have powers to discipline him. However, yesterday the chairperson of the disciplinary tribunal, Sarah Christie, ruled that Cope’s office bearers acted in accordance with the party’s constitution when they instituted disciplinary action against Shilowa.

Cope spokesperson and Lekota supporter Phillip Dexter noted that Shilowa had failed in eight legal challenges against the party to date. The latest was on Friday when he lost an appeal against a previous judgement resulting in an order for him to personally pay over R1 million in legal costs to Cope.

On the eve of the congress there is no certainty that it will go ahead or be halted by court order or some or other action on the part of disgruntled party members belonging to one faction or another. All eyes will be on the Heartfelt arena in Pretoria, where the congress is expected to take place over two days.

The emergence of Cope captured the imagination of the South African public, as it came about as a result of a fallout within the ranks of the ANC. The party was formed by disgruntled allies of former President Thabo Mbeki. At the time of its formation many believed that a party started out of anger would not last long. There was also the belief that many who became involved with the party did so out of self-interest and to continue to pursue their political careers.

After the ANC’s Polokwane congress, where Mbeki lost his bid to retain leadership of the party, his supporter Lekota served divorce papers on the ANC. Lekota said at the time that a national convention would be held to gauge the feeling of the South African public on the formation of a new party. Hundreds of South Africans, mainly young professionals of all races, flocked to the convention centre. They did not see the ANC as their political home nor were they comfortable with the DA that was still tagged as a “white” party.

Witness columnist Siphamandla Zondi wrote of Cope: “The developments galvanised young people, mobilised the middle class and especially the black diamonds, rekindled the multiracial character of our progressive politics and reawakened public interest in the Constitution and institutions of democracy. Even the number of eligible citizens who voted in the general elections of April 22, 2009, increased significantly.”

However, with the election came the first rumbles of leadership woes. With the party being formed just six months before the elections, there was insufficient time to hold an elective congress. Both Lekota and Shilowa wanted the leadership position. In the end clergyman Mvume Dandala was brought in as a compromise presidential candidate. He eventually resigned from the party, a victim of the factional squabbles.

Controversial clergyman Alan Boesak also had a flirtation with the party. He quit over allegations of mismanagement and not attending meetings. It was alleged that Boesak was using the party to bargain his way back into the ANC.

Cope’s second deputy president, Linda Odendaal, also resigned as a result of the infighting.

Observers of the party’s first ever elective congress will now want to know whether there is any hope for Cope?









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