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.


Posted on 24 May 2010, in South Africa nationalism, south african elections 2009, Southern African politics, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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