2009 Elections: wassup with COPE? (Dandala)

What is up with COPE and their presidential candidate? I have read the justifications in the papers and listened to discussions of this on radio and tv, and I still don’t get it. Why does COPE think that having Bishop Dandala as presidential candidate is a good thing? How does this move make COPE more attractive?

As far as I can tell, there are a few broad arguments in favour of Dandala’s election, and I find them all unconvincing. Then I have a few additional reservations of my own about putting my X next to COPE now. I am not saying that I was ever sure I’d be voting for them. But I was considering them for my national X, along with the two other liberation movements I had not considered seriously before. Terror Lekota’s face would have tempted me to put my national X for COPE, for I certainly will NOT be putting it next to Zuma’s face, so my national vote is up for grabs. How I feel about Zuma as state president is no secret, as I have noted numerously in public writing, here and elsewhere. But Lekota’s face I could have lived with, even if I knew the ANC would win anyway.

Before you send me lots of comments about how reactionary I am to say this, let me say upfront that I don’t care who thinks I am reactionary for not voting for Zuma. I won’t vote for a proud misogynist homophobe just to prove I am not reactionary. I am still torn about voting ANC privincially and eventually locally.

Many of my friends have already told me how absolutely dodgy I am to like Terror. And maybe I am dodgy. Maybe it’s nostalgia from when he was Free State premier and he kicked butt. Maybe it is because he is convingly anti-ethnicist and I just love it when he refuses to be bullied by people who claim to speak one language better than he does. I liked that when people were pulling the Xhosa trip when he said “uZuma akabhadlanga”, Terror retorted “that’s nonsense, I speak Xhosa as well as the next person”. He said he meant Zuma has no sense; they said he meant he was stupid. In English it sounds the same, but ngesiXhosa I am convinced it is not the same thing. Akabadlanga is closer to saying someone is crazy than to claiming that they are stupid. Maybe I like that Terror says he has changed his mind about various things, and he may keep changing his mind – like he did before when he moved from BC to ANC. All of this is perfectly fine because we are human beings, and we live in a democracy. But Terror is not going to be president, so that is a moot point.

The last thing I am going to say about Terror today is that he had a lot to do with COPE entertaining me in the first place. As can be seen from previous posts, I like being entertained in the run up to the elections.

With all due respect to Bishop Dandala, why should I vote for him? First of all, I don’t think just because Zuma is deemed “immoral”, that the best way to counter that is having a man of the cloth. I think that makes for predictable, boring politics. Give us someone we can believe in, who has charisma and who grabs and keeps our attention. You are not going to get me to vote for anybody based on a morality argument. That argument belongs in a religious community not in a secular state.

I want a president that is ethical, whether he is moral or not. Frankly, I don’t know what is moral and what is immoral. I do know what is oppressive, violent and as a result wrong. The language of morality is irredeemably religious and extremely shortsighted. Moral people have no problem with the death penalty, or throwing their lesbian daughters out of their homes when they come out.

I don’t care about Zuma’s morality. I care about the political implications of his actions and words. Morality is one of those fuzzy concepts like “taste” or “decency”. These fuzzy concepts can be made to mean anything, and historically they have worked in the most oppressive ways – against slaves, against Blacks, against the Irish, against the Jews, against lesbians and gay men, etc. As far as I am concerned, “moral regeneration”, “family values” and talks about morality, when they are not faith confined, are just conservative rubbish. I don’t even talk morality in church. Leave that kind of stuff to the ACDP.

I am an active Catholic, so this is not even about not believing in religion. Nor is it about that silly business of factionalism and denominations between people who identify as Christian. I would say exactly the same thing about a Catholic bishop, or an Imam or a Rabbi, for that matter.

Secondly, I like living in a secular state. Religion is a personal choice, and I cannot see how a priest in the presidency does not send the same kinds of worrying messages that a soldier in the presidency does. The only cool thing about a priest in the presidency would be the fact that the president goes drag sometimes. Let’s keep the uniformed people from powerful regulatory institutions (church, army, police) out of the presidency, please.

Thirdly, Bishop Dandala was the head of Methodist Church of Southern Africa until recently. The Methodist Church’s stance on termination of pregrancy and same sex marriage is unclear to me. I recognise that members of any faith community differ – just like I am feminist, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-reproductive technologies even though I have not left the church I was raised in. The Catholic church has policies that oppose termination, contraception and artificial insermination, but it also has a sterling record of fascist top leadership. (That was a trick “but”.) I am a walking contradiction in this regard, but my religious political hope comes from people like Sister Bernard Ncube, Father Smangaliso Mkatshwa and Archbishop Mpilo Desmind Tutu. So, I am not judging Bishop Dandala on what he chooses to believe in his heart. Nonetheless, a presidential candidate who wants my vote needs to tell me in a straightforward manner how he feels on abortion and lesbian marriages.

Fourthly, I am not sure that a “new” political face is the best way to go at this point. I am all for change, but too much change at once needs much explanation/clearly articulated direction. Change in an uncertain direction leads to insecurity. People don’t vote for parties they are unsure about. Did COPE not have enough headaches from the Affirmative Action controversies? Are they really as clueless as they pretend to be about how many Black votes that confusion has cost them? Do they not realise how pissed off many professional Black women are about the affirmative action PRACTICE at COPE which reinforces the national standard? Do they really have to make everything new?

Maybe they do, but then this will affect voter confidence. People won’t vote for COPE if they’re not really sure of what COPE stands for. This new kid on the block has a lot of potential, but COPE will need to do a lot to recapture the November excitement. If it manages to do that again, then the party stands a chance of double digit percentages in the polls.

There are many voters whose voting choices are unclear for the first time. COPE is neither giving me hope, nor making me feel particularly excited right now.

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Posted on 19 March 2009, in Southern African politics, things that suck and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Wandile Kasibe

    Dear Dr. Gqola, it always makes one feel enlightened and sometimes controversial to read and analyze your thoughts as reverberated through your written material. I hope you will find my response to your highly insightful concern, inoffensive and nondestructive to your seemingly hesitant embrace of COPE’s presidential candidate, Mvume Dandala and preference of Terror Lekota. Your skepticism is well placed and carefully articulated and defended, however your soft spot for Terror Lekota and the paradigm through which you have chosen to display your indecisiveness seem to suggest that your indecisiveness is not the case here, but there is something hidden in-between the lines. Though you are still waiting for some “excitement, entertainment, a leader who will tell you how he feels on abortion and lesbian marriages, …someone who keeps our attention”, it seems to me that you have already made your choice, could it be that perhaps you are trying to understand the reason why you made that choice? If you are as indecisive as you make yourself out to be, well according Niccolo Machiavelli your “…indecisiveness is a sign of weakness” and can only be dealt with in what Machiavelli further addresses as “political reality”
    The “reality” is that your friends were probably not far away from “truth” when they conveyed how dodgy one can be and in this case you to like Terror Lekota in the manner that you do. You seem to forget that when Terror was the chairperson of the ANC, he destroyed his own reputation by publicly entrenching Mbeki as some kind of an unquestionable “Prince” or “King” of the ANC. When he was reminded that there are neither “kings”, “Princesses” nor “Queens” in the ANC, but people who have made an individual and collective commitment to serve the masses of our people. He responded to the scrutiny by accusing his opponents of undermining his authority. In so doing Terror reduced himself to basic elements, forgetting that his authority means nothing if he does not pay a close attention to what Machiavelli further observes in his account entitled “The Prince”: “The key [issue in politics] is to act as the times and the mood of peoples require”. What Terror failed to accept was that people were tired of being patronized by his hypocritical approach and blind loyalty to Mbeki, who himself embbarassed us (South Africans) by denying the existence of HIV-AIDS in-front of the International community. One wonders how could a man as brilliant as Mbeki have fallen so hard from “political grace” just by refusing to listen to the basic needs of our people? How could someone of such caliber fail to follow in the footsteps of great man such as tata Nelson Mandela (Son of the Thembus)? How could he even embraced the idea of the third term? Was he really that hungry for power, as William Gumede once revealed in his book: “Battle for the Soul of the ANC”. Look at it quite closely Pumla, where there is Terror, there will always be the Mbeki’s, the Macozoma’s, the Ngcuka’s, the Pahad’s and others who are still in the ANC, but looking for an excuse to abandon the party. What most people have missed to understand is the fact that the ANC has the potency to heal itself, this we have seen on many ocasions and I am sanguine that the ANC will do well in the coming elections.
    I shall not comment on your disdain of Nxamalala, because it is clear to me that you will never vote for anything that he (Zuma) represents; namely the ANC and therefore it wont make sense for me to show you that the ANC is still committed to improving the lives of our people. But what I will challenge you on though, is the fact Terror has shown us no new political qualities or growth, but the same old ANC cadre who will always serve those with better political ideas. What I think you need to engage or ask yourself is: who are the real driving forces behind the formulation of COPE? Who is the real mastermind behind COPE?
    In a nusthell, I must also state that COPE and ANC are two “political homes” and as you know that in an political home there will always be prodigal sons and daughters, who will vacillate between their newly established and formerly well established homes and this too is unfortunately the nature of our politics. Pardon me for my grammatical errors…

  2. @ Wandile, thank you for your response which has got me thinking all over the place. This is a good thing.
    First of all, Terror Lekota is not a candidate for the presidency, so even if I really wanted to vote for him, I couldn’t. Maybe that is one of the problems with the current electoral system with regards to my refusal to vote for Zuma. If I could separate a national ANC vote from voting for Zuma, maybe my life would be a little better since I could vote for the party, but vote differently for the presidency. I certainly think so. But this is all at the level of fantasy now because this is not a real option.
    Secondly, about excitement during elections: isn’t that what half the electioneering is for? Maybe I am being flippant, so let me answer you by way of anecdote. When you are a loyal ANC voter, which I was until recently, the electioneering isn’t really going to change your mind because you already know who you are voting for. The least it can do it entertain you.
    Third, much of the support Zuma has is emotional and nostalgic. There is nothing wrong with this as basis for support or basis for anything for that matter. As a feminist, you know I reject arguments that “emotional” is somehow less legitimate than “rational” whatever both are taken to mean. My attachment to Terror is clearly nostalgic and emotional. Why can’t it be? But it is also irrelevant as far as voting is concerned because COPE is more than Lekota, and also less than Lekota, at the same time. As I argued in another piece on policy and voting patterns, published in The Weekender at the end of last year, people don’t vote based on party policies alone, but on a whole range of other factors. (That’s a long argument, and I’ll see if I can post the opinion piece on the blog sometime soon).

    Fourth, politics is about personalities as much as it is about anything else. No matter what politicians say, we also project our own desires and issues onto them. This is why Madikizela-Mandela and Zuma can remain so popular no matter what the press or courts say about them. It is also how we can explain the fact that some people like one but not the other. For example, I am often tickled by Holomisa’s brazenness and wit, and have found myself agreeing with a point he made here and there. But I am not really going to consider voting UDM for reasons best left to another blog entry. Similarly, Patricia de Lille is my favourite politician hands down. (For a long time nobody could compete with de Lille and Madikizela-Mandela as far as I was concerned.) But the weirdness that comes from other people in the ID is frightening. So, I can take her seriously as a forthright, courageous, principled Pan Africanist comrade, and still not vote for her party. At this level then, as with Terror for me, perhaps, we can’t monitor one another’s emotional irregularities. By the way, it would also not be impossible for me to have a soft spot for Terror and de Lille, and still vote ANC. These are not mutually exclusive. Many people are in this situation.
    Fifth, the Zuma-Mbeki thing is exhausting. Every human being on the planet is always more than their friends, and also always more than the opposite of their new enemies. What I mean here is that even if you accept that Terror supported Mbeki – we are in a democracy and people can support whomsoever they like – Terror is NOT Mbeki. Vavi is not Zuma is not Malema is not Nzimande is not Manamela and so forth. I think there are scary similarities between them, but even as they exist on a continuum of violent public masculinities, they are distinct. I refuse to accept that people are always just proxies for other people. Terror had a political life before Mbeki and he will have one after him.
    Finally, to say I won’t vote for Zuma is not premised on liking Mbeki. That’s a red herring. I would not vote for Mbeki if he was standing in April either. So, the argument about people just being puppets is overly simplistic and insults people’s minds, quite frankly. People are more complex than that. If we can only imagine our choices as those that exist between a publicly misogynist homophobic president, who is at the helm of a liberation movement OR the ex-president’s friends who can never be anything else all of a sudden but the friends of an arrogant intellectual, then things are sadder than I thought. Zuma is more than Mbeki’s nemesis – and even this re-writing of Zuma as not-Mbeki-like is very convenient since they were allies, comrades, “friends” for decades themselves.

    Is the choice really between these two men? Even if I really disliked Mbeki, I would not automatically vote Zuma. Do people really think like this? I don’t believe it for one second. It’s a smokescreen. People in and out of the ANC are smarter, more politically savvy and strategic than that.
    Will the ANC heal itself? I don’t know that it is sick and wounded, necessarily. Just different from where it was three elections ago. That’s fine. But voters are also allowed to be different from where they were two or three elections ago – when I voted ANC in the past, incidentally, I was effectively voting for a presidency with Mbeki and Zuma. We all have to believe in who we vote for. After 2006, you are not going to get me to vote for Zuma. I now know better. Full stop.

  1. Pingback: 2009 Elections: COPE banners rock « Loudrastress

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