Enough has been said about how the first year of Cope’s existence has been a rough ride characterised by a mix of leadership difficulties as well as a sense of disorganisation at both administrative, strategic and policy levels. So how should Cope fix these obvious impediments that have made its founding year an overall disappointment for many of us? How should it become the change it wants to see in our society?
Electing a new, visionary and democratic leadership is one of the key solutions and policy clarity to the population is another. There is, frankly, no point in dreaming about a political programme that will have no driver, no leader, no initiator — a case of a flock without a shepherd or multiple shepherds for that matter, is a malady that Cope cannot suffer further. So uppermost in the agenda must be to stop dithering and announce a date for the policy and elective conference to deal once and for all with both these cardinal challenges. Though it is important that branches are built ahead of such a conference, there is a case to be made to elect a leadership based on whatever branches are formed come the cut-off date for such an exercise — otherwise we may wait in perpetuity for the “ideal number of branches” and wake up to a disintegrated organisation with the few paid-up members that Cope has having lost interest all together and an electorate that is disillusioned enough to resign themselves to the ruling party’s destruction of our democracy.
But the conference is not the be-all of Cope for 2010. I have five suggestions for Cope that are simple enough to start its rise from the ashes. Be organised; be truthful about the challenges facing us in parliament, in the party; be clear about the policy and leadership of the organisation and for heaven’s sake have a campaign that can make Cope stand out and be the “change it wants to see” in our society.
The challenge to be organised. First of all in order to be organised the following basic things need to happen:
• The establishment of a seamless head office and staff this with a set of professionals who will ensure clarity in developing and executing an overarching strategy for the re-emergence of Cope as a force to reckon with in our body politic.
• The appointment of a formal fundraiser: no party can live on politics or prayer alone. The dire financial situation needs to be changed urgently.
• Running proper meetings with clear outcomes and ensuring that office-bearers are made accountable systematically for the work they have been assigned to do: this has been sorely lacking.
• Ensuring that Cope has a business plan in all areas of its operations: you can’t run anything decent without a plan that outlines what resources we need to succeed and how the work will be monitored. The current programme of action is a good start but is highly inadequate.
• Ensuring that there is organised space for thousands of volunteers who want to help. There are just too many people who have walked away from the party because they were made to feel underutilised and unwanted.
Secondly, being truthful about the challenges that face Cope in parliament and in the party.
There is nothing that annoys the public more than pretending there is no crisis when it is staring you in the face. Therefore the sooner we face the fact that we could be better organised in parliament the better. We need to acknowledge the challenges facing our leaders, caucus and whip in parliament and deal with these head on. There is a need for a broader engagement about what the strategy as an effective opposition in an out of parliament has to be. The starting point is that the congress national committee should actually discuss the matter and give our members of parliament direction. That this has not happened with any measure of seriousness leaves much to be desired and needs to be fixed urgently. Then we need a total overhaul Cope’s modus operandi there if we are to operate shoulder to shoulder with other opposition parties whose machinery is polished and has had ample time for practice.
The much-publicised “toenadering” with the DA in particular must be clarified and communicated much better. Members of Cope must be deeply involved in the shaping of any coalition into the next election. I believe that well executed, such a coalition of opposition forces is a winner, but poorly handled it can backfire. Cope has to stand its ground because the future of such a coalition rests in its success as a player of significance and not an inefficient junior partner.
Be clear about need for policy clarity and leadership stability.
In his book The Democratic Moment Xolela Mangcu correctly argues that: “It may well be that the arrival of the new party contributes to procedural plurality but does not automatically translate into a substantively democratic culture. In fact, political plurality can easily be either wonderfully democratic or terribly anarchic. To avoid the latter, plurality requires at least two things vision and leadership.”
The firming up of Cope policies is the greatest challenge the party faces in 2010. The policy conference is crucial to accentuate and detail Cope’s vision for our country — the population needs to know that if it lets Cope govern, what sort of a South Africa are we going to have. Leadership has to be a visionary one prepared to establish a new culture so as not to impose old cultures inherited from elsewhere. Any old culture of political traditions will kill this party as a new venture and contribute only to hollow plurality.
Be the change you want to see in government.
One of the key issues that Cope raised for the elections campaign was the professionalisation of the civil service. We argued at the top of our voices that what is fundamentally wrong is the inability of government to implement policies. In being the change it wants to see in our society, Cope needs to demonstrate the same professionalisation of its own organisation — be it how constituency offices are run, how we deal with the public, our debtors and creditors as well as how we run our operations. How we deal with the well-being of our own staff for that matter. The question should be — if this was government would we run it this way?
Have one campaign at least that has nothing to do with self but with the people.
There are various campaigns that Cope can run starting with calling for corrupt officials to be jailed and communities without basic services to be taken care of and be represented against a government that does not care for them. Cope has to find that one campaign that South Africa can identify it with — a campaign that will turn its theory, ideology and policy into something that people can appreciate and realise — these people are serious. At the same time I agree with Mangcu’s assertion in his latest book that given the lopsided majority of the ANC in our electoral politics there must be strong emphasis on strengthening civil society, the judiciary and the media. Cope must go back to where a seed of hope was planted — the defence of the constitution, but show through clear campaigns how these often lofty ideals of constitutionality can put bread on the table of our poverty-stricken population in the short and the long term.
In conclusion 2010 can be a year that sees the reassertion of Cope as a frontrunner for the governance of this country. If we fix these things and become the change we want to see in our society, our new agenda for change and hope will start to shine bright on people’s faces.
Hoping for a robust debate on these suggestions from Copers and beyond. Let a million flowers bloom.