With the best will in the world, it’s impossible to think of one good thing the Congress of the People has done since the elections. That’s almost 11 long months. Anybody? Anything? We can’t.
What a bunch of nanas, really. Thursday’s no-confidence vote in the national assembly brought by Cope is a case in point. Has history taught them nothing? If you want the ANC to rally around its leader, the best way to achieve that is to attack them from the outside. It’s not hard, sweethearts, this is just one of those realities about South African politics. Get it, or get out.
But the real danger in making such a stupid move is this. It allows the ANC to gleefully pick you apart in the debate. And this is not just the ANC vs. the DA with all the wonderfully racially charged subtext and all the joy of having spent the last 15 years arguing against each other. Nope, this has much more spice to it, not so much about anything polemical, but about personality. There’s nothing like having a go at your former comrades, and when they open themselves up to it, well, then they must dry their eyes and grow up.
Try this one for size; from Ngoako Ramathlodi: "In recent years we confronted this phenomenon which sought to own the ANC as a personal property of a tiny clique, failing which it was determined to destroy the ANC from within. Happily the people recaptured is(sic) their movement in Polokwane. The tendency conducted public affairs and political discourse with unprecedented arrogance.”
Exactly, suddenly this was a debate about the ANC, about Mbeki and Co. and Polokwane, not about the ANC mismanaging the country into oblivion. And if you don’t remember who won that, you may need to ask the VIP Protection Unit to tap your noggin for a gentle reminder. So suddenly ANC MP’s are given the wonderful gift of being able to mention, in public, how it was that Cope came into being. Worse for Cope. You may remember how it was that it appears that only junior MPs rose to defend Zuma during the debate around his State of the Nation Address. Well, this provided them all with an opportunity to fix that mistake. So Ramathlodi got to rise to his full pin-striped height, Lindiwe Sisulu, who quite frankly may qualify as scary when she’s in full flow, got a chance to rip a strip off Cope.
But this is just the latest in a long line of blunders by Cope. Where is its policy? Where is the difference, the clear blue water between it and the ANC? And, more interestingly, where is its constitution? Eyewitness News had a wonderful story last week about how the guy who was supposed to draw it up, John Ngcebetsha, simply ripped off the ANC’s constituition. Yes, you heard it right. He went on to www.anc.org.za and used, you know, the copy-and-paste function. (He obviously has "Using MS Word" in the skills list on his CV. - Ed) And then, he used the “find and replace” function to change all the “rules” to “clauses”. Except he forget to read through the thing again. Because, as they say in IT, garbage in, garbage out. So the programme changed the phrase “The secretary-general can rule” to, that’s right, you guessed it, “The secretary-general can clause”. Amateur stuff, Ngcebetsha, amateur stuff.
There’s a whole lot of context to all this. Part of it is that the people who left the ANC took their bad old habits with them. So there’s infighting, leaks here and there, whispers and murmurs about leadership bids and that wonderful phrase “factionalism”.
It’s about the Lekotaites versus the Shilowaites. Both very close to Mbeki, but, if some sources are to be believed, the “Xhosa-nostra” is behind Shilowa. He’s not necessarily one of them in some strange way, but the guys who really backed Mbeki - you know, the ones from the Eastern Cape, are pushing like hell to get Lekota out. It appears there’s possibly even a slight racial element here. It would seem that, while Lekota’s commitment to non-racialism really cannot be challenged, it can become a noose around his neck.
We’re talking about a guy who loves speaking Afrikaans, who when asked to react to the death of PW Botha, the guy who put him in jail and basically ruined part of his life, stopped and said, “I have nothing to say, but…I send my regards to his family”. A guy who famously gatecrashed an Afrikaner meeting earlier in the decade to tell them in Afrikaans that “Pretoria sal Pretoria bly”. And then convinced some of the guys to come with him to government’s Day of National Reconciliation celebrations.
It’s partly because of his attitude to things that Cope’s Bloemfontein congress had so many mlungu’s in the crowd. But, if reports are to be believed, that seems to be changing. Whites are realising it’s not the multiracial opposition party to the ANC they hoped it might be. Meeting attendances appear to be down. And if you remember anything about Mbeki’s views on race, you may feel that some of the people close to him, who now back Shilowa, are not entirely displeased by this phenomenon.
Cope is not completely dead in the water. But with the best will in the world, we simply can’t see how South Africa’s second experiment with a completely multiracial party, formed along policy rather than ideological lines, could be a success anyway. It’s failing and flailing right before our very eyes.
And it is not surprising, not the least. The movers and shakers inside Cope aren’t there because they have genuinely different ideas. They’re there because they cannot stand that “100% Zulu boy” won in Polokwane.
And if you remember, most of the Cope people were once in power. They had all the money, protection and resources imaginable and yet, they managed to remain completely incompetent, inefficient and ineffective. It is entirely not surprising that now, when they lost all the privileges they had, the organisation they created is falling apart.
By Stephen Grootes
(Grootes is an Eyewitness News reporter)
Photo: Supporters of the Congress of the People (COPE) chant slogans before the start of their election rally in Soweto February 21, 2009. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko