COPE a sore that plagues South African democracy: iLIVE
One treads carefully when attempting to write a critique about a political organisation they once belonged to.
The reason for this is that, if the party is failing then one by association must have been party to the creation of such failure and if it is succeeding one surely must also take some credit for such success. The Congress of the People (COPE) has been nothing short of a failure.
Without fear of contradiction, I can say that COPE continues to exist like a festering sore that plagues and wounds the South African democracy. I hasten to say, COPE was the only attempt since 1994 that came close to breeding a true alternative political party for South Africans.
At this point, those who remain fully behind COPE, be it COPE(L) or COPE(S), will disagree with my proposition that COPE is a sore that festers and wounds our democracy. However, even the most despised regimes of government across the world remain with a support base.
Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe has avid supporters, Gaddafi had committed supporters, and Mubarak was loved by some. The point here is that, presence of support does not necessarily indicate presence of health, life and progress.
For many reasons, usually founded on passion than reason – whereby loyalty to a ‘cause’ or individuals reigns supreme – support for an illegitimate or discredited entity can and does remain intact.
COPE was given a mandate by just over 1.3 million South Africans, for it to go out and represent them in the National Assembly, the National Council of Provinces and various Provincial Legislatures. The character of these voters should then have determined how COPE handles its public image, content and development. In the lead up to the 2009 national and provincial elections, a report by Ipsos Markinor revealed that over two-thirds of COPE potential voters possess a Matric certificate and/or a tertiary qualification on top of that.
This is by far the contrast of the African National Congress (ANC). Therefore it meant that the posture of COPE would have to be different because it had largely attracted the ‘middle class’ of South Africa. This meant that COPE would not rely on handing out T-shirts, food parcels and organising endless rallies in order to maintain its support base. As a matter of fact, there was once a time whereby we debated whether or not rallies were necessary to have – of course there was never finality on this issue just as there has never been finality on any serious organisational and policy position in the party since its inception.
I call COPE a sore that festers in our democracy, particularly because every time COPE is seen on the news it provokes some form of negative emotions to the 1.3 million voters and those people who would have considered voting for COPE in 2014 depending on how it would behave in its first five year tenure in national politics. People feel a deep sense of betrayal, anguish and depression about the future when they see COPE.
Just like a wound that refuses to heal, every time it is touched with force, it begins to hurt and reminds one that there exists something unhealed on their body.
There is no healing amongst South Africans over the failure of COPE to live up to its promises of an alternative party to govern South Africa. The citizens feel this betrayal even more when faced with the decline in moral, intellectual, visionary, clean and decisive leadership. There is a vacuum in our political landscape.
This vacuum can only be filled by a political organisation, well postured and organised to be an alternative party to the ANC. The DA is not that alternative. There are many things that make the DA an ‘illegitimate’ party to represent the aspirations of the majority (black people) in our country. From its liberalism ideology, to its white foundation, to its selection of black people that do not resonate with the majority of black people, to its bureaucratic management style of the party and many more.
It takes no genius to figure that a true alternative must prioritise and talk the language of the black people, who remain in the worst deprivation than any other race in this country. COPE was supposed to be that. But its failures have jeopardised the formation of another party that would play this role.
Black people are in general quite forgiving; however, they despise feeling that they have been taken for a ride and they take unkindly to betrayal and are very harsh in punishing mistakes of one of their own than they are when punishing mistakes of others.
For this reason, there has been a silent moratorium placed on those who have a desire to attempt launching a new black led political party. This moratorium will exist up until the time the wound that is COPE has been healed. The only way this wound can be healed, is by COPE retreating from the offensive style of recruiting members whilst it remains divided. It must be cause for sanity-worry when leaders who contributed in the struggle against apartheid are found to be joining a faction within one party and this is seen as if they have joined a new party.
When such behaviour happens it indicates that the differences within the party are no longer normal, they are abnormal and cannot be resolved for future coexistence. The solution is that one faction will inevitably walk out of COPE, be it in 2014 or in the near future.
The problems of COPE are historic and equal to the organisation’s years of existence. In the Bloemfontein inaugural conference in 2008, conference came to a halt when people had to intervene to ask Mbhazima Shilowa to retract from challenging Terror Lekota, as that would split the party at its infancy stage.
With hindsight, anyone will agree that, the contestation should have gone ahead because in its absence what happened is that these two sides that were opposed as to who must lead from the onset, they were now institutionalised to exist as factions. Anything else that has happened in the party over the past three years has been a play of tactics by one of these factions over the other. Thus, COPE was reduced to personalities, allegiance on preference of leadership before even establishing a solid foundation of ideology, policy and other matters related to governance. The public deserved better.
What COPE has also taught the public is that, there is very little hope that a new alternative party will be founded by people who have spent decades in the ANC, as they transport that culture they had indoctrinated in them over the years to the new party. For instance, I always questioned the wisdom in having COPE adopt an outdated and ill-advised Freedom Charter of 1955, instead of coming up with a new Charter that captures the realities and struggles of the present day.
Many in the leadership of COPE would talk about how they were building a better ANC and that COPE would be a resemblance of the ANC of Oliver Tambo. That was enough for any person seeking a new alternative to pack up and leave. Why would anyone want to spend energy building a replica of the ANC of exile years, which surely its thinking and practice would be incompatible with the presence? If Lekota also believed in this creation of a COPE that is like the ANC of Oliver Tambo, then he is correct to want to hang on to leadership for long, because even Tambo stayed in leadership as ANC President for a good 30 years – even though some people believed he could not lead an all-out armed struggle with his deep Christian roots and convictions.
These are just excerpts of some of the things that would have given the character of COPE today. A lot of allegations, accusations, finger pointing and counter-allegations etc. remain in the public domain about leaders of COPE. This started in April 2010.
Even to this day, there is no leader that has been arrested for corruption and money laundering charges. The accusations of certain improprieties have not come to rest.
Yet the leaders of COPE have the audacity to come out and recruit people into such a beleaguered party with huge clouds of mistrust, embezzlement of funds etc. The reality is that, these two factions have been on a strategic stalemate. The stalemate assists both sides to have many of their people as positive continuing to earning money either in parliament or in party offices.
The seriousness of this statement is that, COPE also has turned out to a party of protecting the stomachs in a worse form than the ANC. I doubt that even 50% of COPE’s constituency offices are fully functional.
The reason I write this is because I am uneasy with observing how COPE is preying on the poor, the desperate, and the downtrodden making them believe that COPE is the party of choice.
This is called ‘false advertising’ and indicates a lack of moral leadership on both factions, because people are able to blatantly lie and sell a false dream, even though they do not know whether or not they will be campaigning under the COPE banner in 2014.
Just like we bemoan the trickery used by the ANC to hold our citizens at ransom for them to vote for the party, we must categorically condemn the falsehood of a COPE that is vibrant alive and an alternative. That dream once occurred. That dream once had a chance.
That dream is not deferred for COPE, but it is dead.
That dream only remains deferred for the country. The sooner the country heals from the wound that is COPE the sooner the country can ready itself for the launch of an alternative party and I predict that in 2016, the consciousness of the country will be heightened enough for it to see the birth of a party that will be the next government of South Africa.