Monthly Archives: May 2010

The messy business of COPE

How is it possible that a party that started with such fanfare and had such imagination can appear to be self-destructing before our very eyes? I am talking about the Congress of the People (COPE), of course.

Many will remember the excitement it created in promising the birth of an opposition that we could respect. There are millions in South Africa who will never vote for the Democratic Alliance (DA) in their lifetime because we remember too much, are too suspicious of the people in charge of that party and have no respect for many of the DA’s policies. It brought suprise, intrigue and really articulated some of the frustrations felt by previously loyal ANC voters.

Although people have much historic respect for the Independent Democrats (ID) leader, Patricia de Lille, we can’t quite figure out who the other people in that party are. So, it seems we’re not likely to have ID as a real, large opposition either.

Of course, if the Pan Africanists in the various parties that now exist were a little more organised, or AZAPO more visibly convincing, there might be hope there too.

But there has been no such hope. This is why COPE offered an interesting turn in recent SA politics. It was not just the fact that many of the founders came from the same liberation struggle background, it was also that this party offered something new to South African politics.

Even if your loyalty to the ANC was unshaken, you could not really dismiss COPE as insignificant. The ANC electoral campaign clearly took COPE seriously in the run up to the 2009 elections. The amount of energy and attention that the ANC paid to COPE showed, even if just metaphorically, that this was a formation that mattered. Think about how little attention the ANC pays to other small parties – even when these are more established. Now compare this to how much ink was dedicated to the ‘divorce papers’ by Lekota, the speculation on Shilowa, the violent utterings by various ANC leaders as they spoke about their previous comrades who has crossed over, the controversies about who else was organising/raising money for COPE, how hard the ANC fought to prevent COPE from having a name of any sort with leftist associations, etc.

But COPE seems hell bent on showing South Africans that the grand promise was all just an act. How else do you account for the repeated bizzare incidents in the public – from the delayed election presence (which they eventually fixed and spectacularly so), to the endless media mess on whether there should be a Congress or not? Bitter in-fighting does not inspire confidence.

Many people voted for COPE, and as with any other political party, the vast majority of these people are not card carrying members – and will never be. If COPE does not stop irritating and embarassing the people who voted for it in such numbers, they can pack up and go home. The best thing they can do now is to surprise their audiences, and pleasantly so, by staying clear of things that will lose them further confidence. They need to remain an alternative for future elections. This will not be the case if we see more priests (bishops)/uniformed men as compromise candidates, more machismo between the two top leaders, there is more talk of a split, or other boring events typical of mundane politricking.

Come on, people living in South Africa may have very high appetites for soapies and dramas, but we prefer these on our screens not in our political life. With their techno savvy, some of the big money behind them, and their media savvy, COPE really owe us something a lot more imaginative, whether we vote for them or not.


nationalism, patriotism and Bafana Bafana

Every Friday Jozi explodes in yellow and green. I have it on good authority that the whole country is in the grip of deep FIFA World Cup fever – not just Jozi. A friend updated her facebook status from Mthatha in the Eastern Cape by pointing out that she could not get away from the national flags and soccer jerseys.

Some schools have started asking parents to please ensure that the children are dropped off wearing Bafana Bafana soccer jerseys on Friday mornings. My baby wore his yesterday, and will wear another one next Friday. Another friend’s son was fined R10 at his school because his green and yellow is a Brazilian shirt, not Bafana Bafana. All of this excitement is to show a country well behind our national squad as the soccer tournament grows nearer and nearer.

My family loves soccer, so I have no qualms about the soccer and Bafana are closer to my heart than I’d like to admit. Otherwise, how do I explain the anxiety I feel for days before each match they play whether they are on a winning or losing streak?

I have never seen so many flags in the streets in my entire life. There are SA flags on people’s cars, rear view mirrors, outside people’s houses, on people’s hats and caps. The only flag on my car is a rainbow sticker, and I am not likely to have the national flag waving from my car windows anytime soon. It’s not that I am immune to the fever that has gripped the country I call home.

Far from it.

I am as likely to get swept up in the feeling of the moment as the next person. I was a nut during the Africa Cup. But I am just a little frightened of nationalism so the flags overwhelm me somewhat. At the same time, I remember being less bothered by nationalism and being unapologetically patriotic at other times: when I lived in Germany for a short while, I was extremely South African. In 1994 and 2004, I did not apologise for loving SA and being Southern African. Before 1994, I called myself a patriot sans fear of contradiction.

I know that I will probably buy one of those Bafana Bafana flags for my car before I take my seat at the opening match and my resistance to the shirts is lowering all the time. Everytime I enter a Woolies or Pick and Pay, the green and yellow beckon louder and louder. All I need now, I imagine, is the assurance that the soccer flags and shirts are not made in China but locally, and I’ll exchange more of my cash for the goods. Eish.

Of course, there are larger problems with the FIFA World Cup, and whether all the hyped up benefits will stand the test of time. But I honestly am not thinking about that as I marvel at how popular the national flag is, and how for the most part people actually have the red part on top.