Tag Archives: Mosiuoa Lekota

Why there’s not much hope for Cope

This op-ed was written on the eve of South Africa’s elections in April.

When Mosiuoa ‘Terror’ Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa announced they were “serving divorce papers” on the African National Congress (ANC), their political home, there was a frenzy of speculation that this would result in a tectonic shift in South Africa’s political and electoral landscape. As the marriage broke down irretrievably with the SA National Convention, an anti-Zuma fest in Sandton, and the subsequent official launch of an opposition breakaway party in Bloemfontein just over a month later, pundits were hailing these developments as marking the end of ANC’s political hegemony.

Dreams of a breakaway party’s ability to chastise ANC arrogance and curb the party’s overwhelming electoral might weren’t the only things discussed amongst the chattering classes. Many were seduced by Lekota’s pro-constitutional rhetoric, calls for a constituency-based parliamentary system and for the president to be directly elected. They saw this as promising greater engagement and accountability between political parties and the people – an antidote to the Mbeki era’s alienation of the electorate and the erosion of parliament’s prestige and “people power”.

Now, as the April 22 election date looms dizzyingly closer, the body politic is in a very different mood. A Markinor poll estimates that the Congress of the People (Cope) will receive between eight and 12 percent of the vote, with this buttressed by the DA’s tracking poll results which show support for the breakaway hovering between six and eight percent. Both percentages are paltry compared to the optimistic figures bandied about in the early days of Cope’s creation. It appears that come April, Cope will little more than dent the ANC’s electoral dominance – far from cutting the ruling party down to size as so many initially expected.

There are a number of reasons for this. The initial media frenzy and fuzzy euphoria that surrounded Cope’s pro-constitutional democracy pronouncements soon faded as more and more personalities closely associated with Mbeki’s ruling cabal defected to the party.

Nosimo Balindlela, the erstwhile premier of the Eastern Cape, was welcomed by the breakaway with open arms, despite having led a provincial administration plagued by corruption, ineptitude and service delivery failures.

Smuts Ngonyama, another influential member in the new party, hardly represents democratic values – having been Machiavellian Mbeki’s spin-doctor-in-chief and head of the presidency. With Phumzile Mlambo-Ngucka, the former deputy president, jumping aboard too, Cope seemed to increasingly resemble a collective of has-beens sidelined after backing the wrong horse at the ANC’s landmark Polokwane conference in December 2007.

The party’s leadership also suffered a credibility crisis. While Terror Lekota has been lauded for being “his own man” and something of a firebrand, many sceptics pointed to the administrative collapse of the defence department while he was its political head. People were also left wondering where Lekota’s apparent commitment to the Constitution was while he was a member of Mbeki’s cabinet. After all, he seemed quite happy to toe the party line when it came to Aids, the Arms Deal, Zimbabwe and other issues.

Cope has struggled to define its identity. While it has claimed to be a fresh and new alternative to the ANC it has been unable to differentiate itself from the ruling party, thanks to the plethora of Mbeki-ites in its ranks and a “cut and paste” election manifesto startlingly similar to the ANC’s. Volunteer-in-chief Mbhazima Shilowa didn’t help matters by claiming Cope “reveres” Mbeki: an autocrat whose tenure was marked by the suppression of debate, demonisation of critics, racialisation, lacklustre service delivery and rampant corruption.

Cope’s failure to make a clean break with Mbeki’s reign has continued with the appointment of Mvume Dandala as the party’s presidential candidate. While some hailed the appointment as a masterstroke – after all, the political neophyte was supposedly untainted by the scandals and intrigue of the Mbeki era – the strategy backfired. Not only is Dandala relatively obscure — most South Africans haven’t heard of him until now – but journalists soon discovered that Mbeki has described the former head of the Methodist church as his favourite cleric. Dandala incidentally officiated at his presidential inauguration in 2004. Unlike most other senior religious figures he refused to criticise even the president’s most horrifying policies – most notably Aids denialism and the implicit support of Mugabe’s oppressive regime. Dandala reinforced notions of loyalty to Mbeki and his Aids-denialist agenda when he was unable to categorically state to a journalist that HIV causes Aids. It’s perhaps unsurprising that some have even gone as far as to accuse him of being a Mbeki puppet, acting as a proxy for the disgraced former president to reign in the influence of Lekota and Shilowa within the new party.

A deterioration in the generally favourable attitudes towards Cope in the mainstream South African media can be attributed to the quietening down of pro-constitutional sentiment, with the splinter party instead dependent on high-profile defections to maintain news momentum. But even this tactic backfired when several people, including the ANC MP Dennis Bloem, were included in both the ANC and Cope electoral lists in early March. It appeared that these principled specimens were hedging their bets, worried they were to be purged by the post-Polokwane faction in power at Luthuli House. The electoral list fiasco also sparked reports of fierce battles for power and positions within Cope. With the party’s foot soldiers fighting it out for top spots on the electoral list, focus on the real battle – the election campaign – has been lost. Shilowa, Lekota and Dandala’s wobbly and uncertain leadership exacerbated the situation, creating the perception amongst potential voters that Cope is rudderless, running aground on the quicksands of self-interest and organisational anarchy.

Cope’s already fragile credibility has also suffered from its lack of discernment around new recruits which include corrupt former pastor Allan Boesak and other politically irrelevant opportunists like David Dalling and Peter Marais, both of whom have been members of several different parties. (In a farcical twist, the latter has subsequently defected to the ANC.) To make matters worse, Cope’s election strategist Mlungisi Hlongwane rejoined the ANC in late March. Compounding this strategic instability are rumours that despite the backing of BEE billionaire Saki Macozama, Cope has run out of money.

Analysts have said much about Cope’s potential impact on other opposition parties, with some even claiming that the breakaway would unseat the Democratic Alliance (DA) as the official opposition. Although Cope has been campaigning in opposition strongholds and its Western Cape premier candidate Allan Boesak has desperately rubbished the service delivery record of the DA-led coalition running the city of Cape Town, it is unlikely that either will have much effect. This is supported by Cape Town’s two recent by-elections: the DA won both by a landslide, with support for Cope barely registering as a blip on the electoral radar.

Cope’s dire financial situation, combined with its lack of strategy and chaotic organisational structure, is up against the DA’s relatively well-funded and slickly operated election machine and therefore will not be capturing much of the opposition vote.

On voting day Cope can count on the support of Mbeki loyalists as well as a sizeable portion of the nascent black middleclass, the beneficiaries of Mbeki’s Black Economic Empowerment and affirmative action programme. There aren’t, of course, that many of either – a direct consequence of the nature of both the man and the policies he imposed.

Like the authoritarian and aloof figure that haunts it, Cope has failed to connect with the rural voters and urban poor that make up the bulk of the ANC’s support base. In contrast, this is a demographic that ANC president Jacob Zuma, with his populist charisma and empathetic warmth, has energised and inspired. The disillusioned frustration stemming from the service delivery failures, unemployment and continuing poverty that characterised Mbeki’s rule has shifted to a hopeful optimism that the messianic Msholozi will deliver. In the face of this, splutterings about Zuma’s corruption charges are powerless and largely irrelevant. In trying to seriously challenge the Zuma-led ANC, Cope has put itself at an even greater disadvantage through its incoherent leadership, uninspired election manifesto and its chronic credibility crisis.

It is clear that Cope’s formation will not fundamentally realign South African politics as some have hoped. While that realignment is indeed inevitable, it is also an incremental process. We still have a long way to go.

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Devious Shikota is merely Mbeki 2.0

Come 2009 elections, Shikota won’t be getting my vote. While their pro-constitutional rhetoric is encouraging, it’s also hard to believe.

Where was Lekota’s commitment to the constitution when he was in Mbeki’s cabinet? He seemed quite happy to toe the party line when it came to Aids, Zimbabwe and other issues.

It’s tempting took think the likes of Lekota have had a change of heart, a damascene conversion to safeguarding and promoting our constitution and democracy. But this is extremely doubtful especially when you have Shilowa saying that the dissidents “revere” Mbeki: an autocrat whose tenure was marked by the supression of debate, demonisation of critics, racialisation, Aids-denialism, lacklustre service delivery, rampant corruption and shocking complicity in maintaining Mugabe’s oppressive regime.

Something equally revealing are the figures that are emerging within the movement. Nosimo Balindlela, the erstwhile premier of the Eastern Cape, has been welcomed by the breakaway with open arms. And yet this woman led a provincial administration plagued by corruption, ineptitude and wholesale service delivery failure.

Smuts Ngonyama is another influential member in the new party. But this man hardly represents democratic values – indeed, as Thabo’s spindoctor-in-chief and head of the presidency, he epitomised all that was callously vile and Machiavellian about the Mbeki regime.

The mask has slipped. Whatever they might claim, Shikota is not about principles or reform – such utterances appear merely to be a smokescreen to dupe the electorate into giving them back the power and influence that this cabal of Polokwane losers has lost – and now craves.

Opposition parties need to be on their guard. As Rhoda Kadalie says in her latest column:

It seems a bit far-fetched for opposition parties to support Lekota and Shilowa on the grounds of principle — the sanctity of the constitution and democracy — when they know that cabal allowed the president to flout it at every turn, with regard to the weakening of Parliament, the chapter nine institutions, the National Prosecuting Authority and his support of Jackie Selebi.

I hope I’m proved wrong. But Shikota seems little more than Mbeki 2.0: a reincarnation of the self-interested, craven elite who undermined South Africa’s hard-won democracy and, while earnestly amassing power and fortune for themselves, failed to uplift and empower the masses of people who were oppressed by apartheid.

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Talking points at the National Convention

The first day of Lekota’s National Convention has passed and, by all accounts, been a success, with almost 5000 delegates in attendance. On the convention’s website, there is a useful summary of what the speakers said (a list that includes Mosiuoa Lekota, former Cosatu stalwart Willie Madisha and Unisa vice-chancellor Barney Pityana) .

In her weekly online newsletter, leader of the DA Helen Zille explains the reasons for attending the convention. Click here for more.

Below are the talking points listed on the convention’s website, outlining what is being discussed:

  • The Convention will have to determine whether the current, existing structures are sufficient to deal with the challenges facing our democratic institutions today. Is there a need for a new progressive movement? This movement should have as a core principle a deep commitment to fighting poverty, underdevelopment and unemployment as well as entrepreneurship, wealth creation and economic growth.
  • Enhancement of the fights against corruption in the public and private sectors. Debate should take place on political morality and ethical behaviours across all the spheres of our political totality
  • A review of the electoral system, starting with the Slabbert Report on how we can mix the “Constituency System with the Proportional Representation System”
  • The direct election of President, Premiers and Mayors to make them accountable to the electorate.
  • Maturing of democracy and the role of Political Parties and Civil Society. What are things that are needed to strengthen democratic institutions. The strengthening of think tanks, media, tertiary institutions and research outputs should be encouraged. These, however, should represent the diversity of opinion in South Africa.
  • Regular elections in a democratic setting are held to test the will of the people, whose preferences should change on a continuous basis. How do we create institutions that are permanently enterprising, that consistently test existing policies and ideologies, and provide platforms for the testing of new ideas – a society engaged in “relentless erudition” of existing and new policies. This should go with a systematic critique of the emerging “anti-intellectualism” in South Africa’s political discourse.
  • Democracy suffers when Premier Political Parties behave in an vindictive manner while exercising power in a democratic setting. How do we strengthen democratic cultures among major political parties? In the ANC, people joined as members thus resulting in equality of status among members, yet the Alliance partners have sought to have extra authority in the ANC over their status as members of the ANC.
  • Defending the clear separation of party and state, and clear separation of state and institutions such as religion, academy, etc.
  • Clear definition and commitment to the long held principle of the separation of powers.
  • Policy interventions to continue South Africa’s economic growth efforts, and some of the interventions that are needed to continue building this winning nation
  • Creation of multiple levels of leadership, especially across generations. The issue of inter-generational dialogue is critical.

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Quote of the day

Rhoda Kadalie, in today’s Business Day, on the Lekota dissidents:

Having failed to crush Zuma, these rebels are now plunging headlong into calling a national convention, not because they believe in a constitutional democracy and the Freedom Charter, as they claim. It is about revenge. They will destroy Zuma even if it means destroying their beloved ANC.

And

For Lekota to claim that the current ANC has departed from the Freedom Charter is a bit rich, given that the cabinet of which he was a part behaved as though the Freedom Charter never existed.

As usual, Kadalie hits the nail on the head!

Check out the rest of her must-read column here.

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Rebel party gathers critical mass

The M&G analyses the potential support Mosiuoa Lekota’s breakaway party has across the country in this article. The most likely sources of support are the division-wracked Western Cape, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape.

Today The Times quotes Lekota on further plans for the convention, with a new party possibly launched on Reconciliation Day (16 December). Click here to read the article.

It is interesting to see the reports covering the shredding of ANC membership cards by members disillusioned with Zuma. At last the spotlight is on the widespread division of the ANC at a grass roots level. Clearly the organisation is far from monolithic — and this will hopefully provide the momentum for the breakaway party.

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Shilowa teams up with Terror

Today Mbhazima Shilowa, Gauteng’s former premier, announced his resignation from the ANC and his decision to join Mosiuoa Lekota’s new political formation.

According to The Times, Shilowa will be the convenor-in-chief of the convention that will discuss the formation of the new breakaway party, which is to be held on 2 November.

Ray Hartley, editor of The Times, reveals the values the new party will be standing for in his blog. The list makes for interesting — and hopeful — reading:

1. It will mirror the ANC’s “broad church” approach, attempting to mobilise the full spectrum of society behind shared values;
2. The party’s values will centre on the protection of the constitution, the judiciary and the rule of law;
3. The party will support the direct election of a president who cannot be recalled by a party while in office;
4. The party will support a constituency based system where MPs are directly elected by communities instead of the current system where MPs are decided on by party bosses.

Read The Times article here, and its editor’s post on Shilowa here.

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New party about power not policy

Karima Brown, the Business Day‘s political  editor, writes a devastating analysis of Mosiuoa Lekota’s moves to break away from the ANC. On the motivations of the formation of the new party she writes that:

It points to a group of powerful individuals who accessed state resources so that they could rule in perpetuity. The move to form a new party has its genesis not in concerns about the rule of law or that the ANC has lost its way in terms of the vision in the Freedom Charter. It is the plan B of those who campaigned for former president Thabo Mbeki’s third-term bid as ANC president as a way to cling on to control. Shortly after their massive defeat at Polokwane, plans were being hatched to see how best to remain in control.

Read the column in full here.

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