Cope civil war rages on

2010-05-22 22:30

Cape Town - The civil war in the Congress of the People (Cope) continued to rage on Saturday as party leader Mosiuoa Lekota and his estranged deputy Mbhazima Shilowa addressed separate meetings in Cape Town.

The two are engaged in an all-out battle for the leadership of the ailing party, to be decided at a national congress that may or may not take place next weekend.

On Saturday afternoon Lekota spoke to about 250 supporters at a hall in the black township of Langa, while Shilowa earlier addressed several hundred delegates to what was billed as the first-ever Western Cape provincial congress of the party, in the city centre.

A last-minute bid by the Lekota faction to block the provincial congress through a high court interdict, which involved late-night calls to a judge on Friday, was abandoned.

The two sides agreed instead to go to court on Thursday to argue whether the meeting should be declared null and void.

The application argues that the conference was not properly constituted in terms of Cope’s constitution, which reportedly requires that 70% of a province’s regional structures have to be in place before a province can come into being.

It says only two of the six regions in the Western Cape have been formally launched.

Democracy requires self-discipline

Lekota told his supporters in Langa that democracy required self-discipline.

“If your ideas, your wishes, are not supported by the majority, you are duty bound to respect the view of the majority. Because tomorrow we will discuss a different issue and then the majority will support your view,” he said.

“You don’t help your cause if you exclude yourself from that meeting because you think people will not support your ideas. You don’t do that.”

He said “we” – it was not clear whether he was using the royal “we” – were urging other Cope leaders to consider whether the national congress would be productive if the contentious issue of hundreds of excluded branches was not dealt with first.

“I hold firmly to the view that we will find each other and we will find a way to solve problems like that ,” he said.

“They need to be corrected so that our organisation can go to a congress that is credible, that satisfies the majority of the members of our organisation.”

As he was talking people in his audience were being asked to sign their support for a “Cope 2010 minute”, a four-page document condemning the Shilowa grouping for waging a “factionalist agenda” ever since the formation of the party.

“The supporters of Mbhazima Shilowa have waged an explicit campaign to denigrate... Lekota and to call for an early congress,” it said.

“As part of this agenda they have fraudulently prepared lists of membership and branches that are non-existent.” Shilowa told several hundred delegates at the provincial congress that no leader should stand in the way of Cope members building an alternative political party for South Africa.

“We must be very clear. If I have issues with the president I must state them in [national] congress,” he said.

“If the president has issues with his deputy, he must state them at congress, in a structure of the organisation.”

He said the national congress would go ahead. “We are going to the congress next week... There will be a congress.”

Cope should use that congress to re-connect with the voters of South Africa, and to humble itself before them.

“We need to go to the congress for renewal. I think our morale is low. Our morale is very low,” said Shilowa. “We need that revival, we need that renewal. Let that be our pilgrimage.”

He said he, like many of his listeners, travelled in his Cope t-shirt.

“But it has not been easy to travel with a Cope t-shirt, because people always ask me, ‘what's wrong with you guys? Sort this thing out for our own sake'. That's what the people of South Africa are saying.”

Disunity 'most difficult period'

Provincial secretary Mogamat Majiet said in an organisational report distributed at the congress that the recent disunity in the organisation had been the most difficult period in Cope's short history.

“We are the laughing stock of South Africa and abroad,” he said.

He said Cope's Western Cape office, in Parow, had budget problems, and for the past three months it had had no fax or internet facilities.

Regional offices had similar problems.

In a statement issued on Saturday, Lekota rejected a claim by Cope general secretary Charlotte Lobe that party bosses had agreed unanimously that the national congress should go ahead as planned.

He said Lobe had threatened his suspension, and he was watching with keen interest “to see exactly on what basis such a move will be made”.