Rediscovering Cope’s goals

That “the morale of most of our (Congress of the People) members is high, their resolve strong and their commitment to the ideals, values and vision of the party unshaken” is not true because it seems the party was “built on a badly constructed foundation and on the premise of lies camouflaged as truth”, according to Ramukumba Khathutshelo, an ANC YL members in Sakhisizwe Branch, Ekurhuleni Region.

Khathutshelo says although the formation of new political parties in any democracy should be welcomed for they are “good for strengthening democracy” and also provide “alternatives to any ruling party and this keeps the ruling party in check and pushes them to deliver for the electorate as they know that failure to deliver can result in them being voted out of power in favour of other alternative political parties”.

However, it is unfortunate because Cope seems to have been “formed out of egos” by its founders, Mosiuoa Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa. Both Lekota and Shilowa – when they decided to leave the ruling ANC after their dissatisfaction with the recall of former president Thabo Mbeki to form COPE – “believed that they were holier than one Jacob Zuma and could not bring their royal harness selves to be led by a man they perceived to be of low class, uneducated and less intelligent than they were”. Others say the party was formed because neither Lekota nor Shilowa were willing to call the ANC and South African president Jacob Zuma “my president”.

In his year-end message to COPE members last year Lekota said that “the morale of most of our members (was) high, their resolve strong and their commitment to the ideals, values and vision of the party unshaken” but I doubt it is true. Or maybe it is as since its formation about two years or so ago, there has been ‘nothing political’ about COPE as this could be evidenced by its founding members’ behaviours since they left the ANC. And the same reasons why they “left the ANC is happening in COPE under their leadership and by all accounts they are the leaders of the cabals and factions that beat each other up and throw chairs at each other”, said Khathutshelo. This after the party failed twice to hold its National Elective Conference last month in Pretoria which turned violent with both Lekota and Shilowa allegedly threatening to moer and bleksem one another at the failed conference.

And it was after this failed elective conference that Lekota admitted in a press conference that “Congress of the People failed to take place as planned,” and assured everyone however that its present state at the time (not sure about this year’s) remained ‘in place’, that its leadership “continues its work and in the near future will go on to hold an authentic first national congress of the Congress of the People”.

Lekota again admitted COPE was “consumed by internal wrangling over grounding the party on its founding principles” and that “2010 has been a year of both highs and lows”.

According to media reports last year Lekota and Shilowa had to be pulled apart as they tried to attack each other at the party’s doomed elective conference. Shilowa allegedly took off his jacket, preparing to square up against Lekota after which they ‘faced off’ before being separated by COPE’s treasurer, Hilda Ndude, and another leader’ .

This, according to media reports, took place in the VIP section of theHeartfeltChurch in Thaba Tshwane,Pretoria, where the farcical conference was to be held, but Lekota has since denied this, saying: “There was no such (attack). In a situation like that, there was a serious altercation, certainly, … (about) the obvious issues we are talking about. In particular, (Shilowa’s) role in the trouble there.”

He was quoted by a Sunday Times newspaper report as saying: “we cannot have someone [reference to Shilowa] who does not subscribe to and practise the values our organisation is founded on. We cannot have such a person in our ranks and we can’t entrust COPE to such a person”.

Denies Bloem, another COPE member, said several members had tried to advise Shilowa and ‘alert him to his cravings for selfish power, and he would not listen’ and believes he must let go.

Sipho Ngwema – said to be Shilowa’s spokesperson accused Lekota of being a ‘temperamental bully’, that Shilowa was not the only one that was confronted by Lekota. “What was disappointing”, Ngwema told the newspaper, “is that his conduct led to the violence (between delegates)”. He said Lekota “doesn’t know how to behave in the company of other people”.

The fight between the two leaders resulted in Lekota and his supporters leaving the conference, and with Shilowa and his supporters to continue with the convention, and with Ngwema defending Shilowa’s election as legitimate because Lekota and his supporters had chosen to leave the conference of their own free will. And it was after the said ‘legitimate election’ of Shilowa that other provincial Youth branches denounced his appointment as the sole party leader, and with others with other branches calling for his expulsion from the partyand even opting for a split.

This however did not stop the respective secretaries of the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, North West, KwaZulu-Nataland Gautengprovince as well as the those of the youth and women movements from recognizing and endorsing Shilowa as the party leader. Bloem said that they can “go to court to contest the legality of his illegitimate election, but like a repetitive record, we have seen this before and already know the outcome”.

Given these infightings, one may agree with Khathutshelo that “COPE leaders fooled South Africans and lied to the nation and made them believe that the formation of COPE was about the wellbeing of the nation, democracy and the rule of law, whilst all along it was about the selected few who wanted to remain in the club of the political elite at all costs”. Too, this is evident in the infighting that has rocked the party since its formation.

However, that Khathutshelo believes COPE ‘was a bad idea’ may not be true as one believes that COPE was a good-idea-gone-bad that was “mischievously orchestrated by politically bad people, which went horribly wrong and is now blowing up in their faces and unfortunately also in the faces of the more than one million South Africans who voted for COPE in the last national elections, with the rest of the country and the world as the witnesses.”

Again, it is very true that it was a good thing that both COPE leaders “exposed themselves early so that good South African can save the country from their good for nothing big egos and consider going back to the ANC or even go to other political parties. As for this two power hungry dictators in the making, I wonder if even the biblical story of the prodigal son would apply to them. I’m sure the ANC is better off with these two out of it” as Khathutshelo has observed.

And it is not clear how Lekota and other COPE members intend to “consolidate COPE as a strong, corruption free party with a vision shared by all its members to work hard to bring about the change South African citizens deserve” as he put it as one of the challenges that the party must address in this new year.

Maybe in order for this challenge to be achieved and addressed amicably, as wished one of its members, Sefu Sekgala, all COPE members should: re-discover their common goals; values and principles, act based on a long term vision to rescue our country; build a clear alternative to the people of South Africa; when acting, bear in mind that qualities of individual leaders are revealed; and use democracy positively and productively, let’s not abuse the good idea of a democratic process and sugar coat is with creative autocracy – some of the things the party has lacked since its formation.

This edited article was first published in my then blog here on January 3rd, 2011.

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