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Cope: Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better

At the heart of the current battle within Cope, it seems to me, is the battle between the old, which is refusing to die, and the new, which is hindered from being born. This political stalemate will kill Cope if an urgent political intervention is not found in the next few weeks. South Africans can be very fickle and the bad publicity is building up into a national psyche of disappointment where the party will be written off as a bunch of losers from Polokwane looking for an alternative means of survival — something that Cope has denied all along, largely successfully. The recent attempts at horse-trading by its leaders indicates that some among them have as a primary preoccupation their livelihoods rather than the future of the party, let alone the needs of ordinary people who can best be served by having a credible black-led opposition party. Sadly the politics of the stomach have engulfed the party. Consider the following events:

Terror Lekota has been the president of Cope for 18 months. Throughout his tenure he has only visited the caucus of Cope in parliament once. He admits that his primary task of building branches has not taken off after 18 months. He has degraded the discussion of parliament off the agenda of most Cope meetings he chaired. Dandala was never allowed to present any decent report for the entire year. Suddenly, when the wind is blowing against the retention of his make-shift crown, he is concerned about the party’s finances in parliament. He has never showed interest in developing Cope’s strategy as an alternative government. As it turns out the books are squeaky clean and the allegations of irregularities false. The attempt to besmirch his opponent has backfired and has been exposed as nothing but political desperation — only aimed at retaining his salary at Cope House.

None of the people who are flanking Lekota have been nominated by any significant Cope structures since nominations opened weeks ago. They have been comfortable with an MP salary they did not have to work too hard to earn, and have been alienated from branches. In fact most of them don’t even belong to a branch. If they do they have hardly been to a single meeting. As it stands they don’t qualify to even be on the ballot should Cope elections take place today owing to a failure to reach the 30% support threshold required. This is why they are not happy to proceed with the elective conference. Their gripe about branches that support Lekota being disqualified makes little or no sense. The audit team was lead by Lekota’s chief adviser, Thozamile Botha, as well as the respected Neville Mompati, who presented an audit report (that was adopted) to the congress national committee (CNC). On this basis the CNC confirmed its readiness to go to the Cope polls. At issue is the fact that should these elections proceed their salaries will suddenly disappear as the inevitable reshuffling in parliament may have to take place.

After questioning the legitimacy of the credentials of branches that have passed the audit, in private these comrades of convenience have been negotiating deals for themselves to secure positions that were likely to be an outcome of this process they suspected they could not stop. When their bizarre suggestions, among others, proposing that Smuts Ngonyama be made chairperson of the party and Lekota a parliamentary leader, were correctly rejected — they resorted to open deal-making through the CNC to force the congress to be abandoned. Besides the fact that making someone like Smuts chairperson will take the party back to the stone ages, it exposes the fact that there is no desire to present anything fresh to the South African public. it also underlines that given a position or two, this lot could have easily gone to congress — the same congress they claim is illegitimate. If you doubt that their focus is in their intestines ask yourself why they were nowhere to be seen at the policy discussions even though they insisted through court action that congress be a policy indaba. They were nowhere to be found as members battled to make sense of some of the most horrendous policy drafts they were responsible for. What is bizarre is that these slippery comrades believe that the delegates are good enough to discuss policy but not fit to discuss leadership — tells you plenty — and everything points to the stomach once again.

As if this is not enough evidence of these disgraceful politics of the stomach, the latest court application by this lot states that their parliamentary seats must not be tampered with. This comes as no discussion has ever taken place about the so-called purge. But what can you do with the conscience of the guilty? Surely if Cope members have no confidence in them they will have no business in parliament. Besides their big stomachs, who will they be representing in the national assembly?

Unless Cope undergoes a metamorphosis that will result in something fresh and new to South Africa, it can kiss its political fortunes goodbye. The national congress and all the drama of these past few weeks represents a further squandering of the voters’ confidence in Cope as a future government. But sometimes things need to get worse in order to get better. For Cope to rise from these ashes it must rid itself of some of these relics of the past and start a process of rising from the bottom with a dynamic leadership core all can accept and the country can respect.