December 16 is Day of Reconciliation for South Africans. A day that signifies a bloody moment in the history of Afrikaners, Zulus and all of us as a nation. The Battle of Blood River, fought at the banks of Ncome River, symbolised an epic moment of mistrust and extraordinary violence between the Afrikaners and the Zulus following the death of Piet Retief at the hands of Zulu Chief Dingane kaSenzangakhona.
One would have naively expected that as a nation we would have made great strides towards building a unified nation which we all imagined at the dawn of democracy. But certain racially-charged political utterances re-establish themselves at every turn and keep reigniting those forceful passions capable of setting the nation on a path of self-destruction. They remind us that ours is an arduous and perilous journey towards a normal society. A society characterised by harmonious relations among all racial groups, together committed to building a prosperous South Africa. This may be an ideal that is not loudly and openly declared by all South Africans but I would want to believe that it is an ideal that we all share and should commit ourselves to.
December 16 2008 marks a momentous occasion in the history of this nation. It was on this day that the Congress of the People (Cope) was born under inauspicious circumstances. Cope was conceived during the repeated rape of the sacred principles of our constitutional democracy by political ruffians who had broken in and invaded the liberation home of the majority of South Africans. The extraordinary political climate that prevailed during that fateful period resulted in this political baby being born prematurely. Like a gazelle that knows it must run for its survival when the sun rises, she too was forced to run before she could learn to crawl because the political dictates of the time necessitated it.
The distressing political events of 2008 have left an indelible stain on our democracy and the challenge is upon us who volunteered our responsibility to nurture this toddler to a brighter future, to be exemplary in our manner of response to internal conflict and other issues that threaten to derail us. Social practitioners do attest that a stable home is crucial during a child’s formative years in order to blossom into a confident and secure adult. When we build this political home, we must be certain that every brick, which represents the hopes and dreams of millions of South Africans, is placed on a firm foundation, not a foundation of sand. What we do today should sustain the continued structural integrity of this political home we seek to build.
A home characterised by domestic violence can never have a positive effect on children who like sponges absorb all the good and bad. The temptation of destructive and factionalist politics should be resisted at every turn as the organisation in its infancy presents opportunities for careerists whose interest is to advance their personal agendas at the expense of unity and growth.
The organisation cannot grow while leadership contests become a divisive obsession instead of a precursor for progress and growth. Cope members should remind those who jockey and lobby each other under the cover of darkness for positions that it will be ordinary members of the organisation who determine the leadership, not backroom manoeuvring. During the election Cope promised voters to reform the current proportional representation-based system to a constituency-based system, thus promoting a direct election of the president of the republic and other public representatives by the people in order that those elected could be held accountable. It is important that such democratic reforms be instituted internally within Cope structures to demonstrate our commitment to the principles they uphold. The nomination and election of national and provincial office-bearers should be in line with these democratic aims.
Cope has since inception been preaching modernity when it has not made a concerted effort to define this “modernity”. That there are former members of the African National Congress in Cope leadership structures is an accident of history and that should not serve as a hurdle to committing itself to ensuring the change it promised the people. The internal governance structures of Cope should not reflect the culture and traditions many of its members did not join to entrench within the organisation. Residues of ANC culture are all too apparent. Cope must rid itself of any trace if it is to become a truly modern political organisation. The words and deeds of its leaders should project modernity to the public and inspire hope and confidence that indeed change is coming.
It is important that as Cope makes incremental strides into the future it does so confident in a distinguishing ideological position. Cope must define what it stands for politically so that its policies and ensuing programme of action can be informed by and speak to that ideology which all members should subscribe to. The kind of South Africa Cope seeks to build should be reflected through our policy positions and in response to issues of global and national interest. Cope cannot and should not maintain political neutrality when the world is torn between capitalism and socialism, when forceful powers from the left and the right seek to assert themselves at the epicentre of economic and political discourse.
In the midst of corruption and the perversion of justice, poor service delivery and entrenched poverty, neutrality is not an option. Cope has to take a stance. When society is held under siege by violent criminals, the youth ravaged by the pandemic of HIV/Aids, when homes are led by orphans and their hope permanently deferred, neutrality is not an option. When our education system fails to become the tree of knowledge whose fruits should nourish society, when our capable and talented youth are marginalised and not absorbed into the mainstream economy, neutrality is not an option. Cope must take a position because the many of us expect it to stand for the best in society.
When Cope stands before the court of public opinion, when those who elected them pass judgment, they must be able to stand tall and proclaim that they stood for something, that they stood for good when evil prevailed and corrupted the fabric of our society. Cope must be able to defend our ideological positions according to the principles and values that define who we are as a nation and who we ought to be as a country.
When Cope celebrates its one-year anniversary, those of us with an interest in its success must remind it why it was formed and what needs to be done to realise those noble ideals. Our country can only prosper when we have a viable alternative.