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Analysis: The slow-motion Cope car crash tumbles on. And on. And on.

Analysis: The slow-motion Cope car crash tumbles on. And on. And on.

We haven’t written about that complete berk of a political party, a.k.a. Cope, in quite some time. We honestly didn’t care anymore, and knew you didn’t either. Meanwhile, the civil war between Terror Lekota and Sam Shilowa continues. For now, Lekota seems to be winning the sympathy vote at least, but Shilowa’s scorched-earth tactics may mean the winner will have no biscuit at the end of it all. Well, it’s at least more entertaining than SABC1. By SIPHO HLONGWANE

After months of delays the worst-organised party in South Africa finally had its elective conference on Thursday, but it descended into an almost-fistfight as the Lekota and Shilowa factions got up to their usual nonsense. According to reports, the people understood to be supporting Shilowa took control of the accreditation process (he who controls the accreditation, wins, remember?) and ensured their people made it into the voting process. A fight then broke out, and apparently the two top men, Sam and Terror, almost exchanged blows.

The Shilowa faction ruined this particular conference as they have done in the past – by gaining control of the accreditation process, seizing control of important party assets and leaving Lekota with the choice of either facing a loss in an outright poll, or leaving the conference. As he did last time, Lekota left with his supporters. Unopposed, Shilowa was then elected party boss under a tree, outside the conference venue in Pretoria. Lekota will almost certainly complain to the courts again, and have himself reinstated as party leader, again.

Interestingly, the stalwarts of the Shilowa faction, who were appointed to positions on Thursday, were called upon by the (supposedly) party proper, or Lekota faction (hard to tell which is which nowadays), to distance themselves from Shilowa, and they did. According to a release, Mluleki George, Zale Madonsela, Sam Kwelita and Neville Mompati all “distanced themselves from the process that saw them being elected to new positions”.

Why did they do that, when they had won? According to Cope insider Marius Redelinghuys, these people are all members of parliament for Cope either in the national legislature or out in the provinces, and would lose their positions and perks in parliament should they be expelled from Cope. And as the court-confirmed leader of Cope, Lekota would have the power to do exactly that.

Look, we’ll save you the trouble of having to wade through the debris that is Cope’s history and summarise it here, so we’re all on the mark:

Breakaway members of the ANC form separate political party, mainly because they don’t like new ANC leader Jacob “100% Zulu boy” Zuma. Touted as the party that would bring the ANC down by diluting its voter base, it only manages 7% in last year’s national elections, pitiful to some, gigantic success to others.

Then early 2010, the slow, slow tumble starts as leaders begin to jump ship.

Then the rift between Shilowa and Lekota becomes obvious, with The Daily Maverick sort of wishing that Shilowa, with his organisational experience, would just take over the damn thing – this is long before Shilowa’s “Dark Side” becomes obvious. Conflicting statements become the order of the day, as Cope spokesman (and Lekota ally) Phillip Dexter is forced again and again to publicly contradict other Cope leaders in the Shilowa camp.

Then things get really ugly. As a political party with parliamentary representatives, Cope is entitled to a sum of money from parliament. It is also responsible for providing parliament with a record of it does with that money. Lekota makes the seriously juvenile mistake of allowing Shilowa to control the purse. And Shilowa is not interested in accounting for what he has done with the money, possibly because he hasn’t spent it terribly judiciously.

Then comes the elective conference that is actually a policy conference, but turns out to be an elective conference. Shilowa wins that one, mainly by rigging the accreditation process, and is installed as president. But Lekota cries foul, and has him removed by the courts. We’re then treated to the increasingly unfunny drama of each faction trying to out-press-release the other. By then, we’ve had enough.

Again we ask ourselves: what’s the point? Not of this ridiculous fight, we know it’s all about personal power now. What was the original point of founding the Congress of the People? Wasn’t it about offering an alternative to the ANC and a truly non-racial party? What happened to all that? What about the poor voters and ordinary party members, the people who actually matter in all of this?

Sentletse Diakanyo, once a vocal supporter of Cope, was gloomy in his assessment, saying, “Cope has failed to live up to the democratic principles and values it purports to espouse. It has betrayed the trust of the general public and made fools of its members”.

Redelinghuys still sees hope. “There are irreconcilable differences within the party,” he said. “But I think there’s something bigger than this childlike squabble. You should have seen the people who were still singing and dancing after waiting for three days at the conference. I am personally disappointed in the party, but I feel that I can’t give up on something that so many people still believe in.”

Here at The Daily Maverick, we’ve banged our heads against our desks many times over the mess that is Cope. We’ve raged against its incompetence, and even after our exasperation was expended, the car wreck tumbles on.

We may not care anymore, but what a waste for that 7% who made their cross on the ballot paper next to Terror Lekota’s face. We feel for you. Really. DM

Read more: BusinessDay, SowetanLive.


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