Lekota's government history and 'autocratic' style cost him the nomination, write Mandy Rossouw and Mmanaledi Mataboge.
The Congress of the People (Cope) may force its president, Mosiuoa Lekota, to remain at the party’s headquarters in Johannesburg instead of going to Parliament, the Mail & Guardian has learned.
Lekota suffered a humiliating defeat this week when Cope settled on a political novice, Methodist Church leader Mvume Dandala, as its presidential candidate instead of the former defence minister.
Driving Dandala’s selection were supporters of Cope’s deputy president, former Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa.
Lekota was fundraising and meeting South Africans in London this week and could not be reached for comment.
Several Cope insiders said Lekota had lost the race as the party’s presidential candidate because he is tainted by his former involvement in the ANC government.
Said a congress national committee (CNC) member: “Wouldn’t you rather want someone who has no ANC history, who has broader appeal to a wider range of people, including non-ANC voters?
“He must stay at the party headquarters here to work with [Cope secretary general] Charlotte Lobe to build the party. He has a mandate to prepare the party for an elective conference in 18 months’ time and to do that you must build branches and structures.”
However, CNC member Lyndall Shope-Mafole and Cope spokesperson Philip Dexter said the party will make final “deployment” decisions only after the elections.
“Everyone’s name is going to be on the list, but after the election we’ll sit down and discuss deployment,” said Dexter.
Shope-Mafole said that the separation of the positions of party president and presidential candidate is “not such a bad thing”.
“We want to separate the party from the government.
We don’t think having two centres of power is such a bad thing.
“We can’t have direct elections but this is as close as we can take it,” Shope-Mafole said.
At a high-level meeting last week only three Cope leaders, Willy Madisha, Mlungisi Hlongwane and Smuts Ngonyama, spoke out in Lekota’s favour. Lekota did not attend the part of the meeting when the dice fell for Dandala, saying he had to leave for Cape Town.
The leadership felt his record as a minister in former president Thabo Mbeki’s Cabinet would haunt the party.
This week Lekota tried to defend his role in Mbeki’s government by justifying the decision to delay the roll-out of antiretroviral drugs to HIV-positive South Africans.
“We had a reason initially to say why we had to be cautious about it, not just to give it — even when you do give people, to ensure that they had appropriate nutrition ...
“Medical research would have shown that if you give somebody a particular medicine, even if it has nothing to do with HIV and Aids ... without a proper meal ... then these things become poison,” he told News24.
To strengthen their case at the Thursday meeting, Shilowa’s supporters also lobbied for Dandala in the provinces.
“People lobbying for Shilowa were very smart, they did not take a hard stance. When they realised they were not winning in the boardroom, they went out to provinces and convinced people to support the idea of a compromise candidate,” said a source close to the talks.
It was felt that the party should put up a presidential candidate against ANC president Jacob Zuma “who is squeaky-clean”.
The M&G has learned that when Lekota heard that he did not make the cut, he switched off all three of his cellphones and could not be reached by his fellow leaders.
A meeting on Sunday night was cancelled because he could not be reached, although he had returned from his campaigning trip in KwaZulu-Natal.
Lekota, who had a reputation for autocratic behaviour as the ANC’s chairperson, is also unpopular among Cope staffers. At least three have allegedly threatened to resign since the launch of the party because he subjected them to “harsh treatment”.
“He was speaking to us like we were kids, saying we are not working hard enough—when most of us were putting in more time than we were supposed to,” one staffer said.
“It is very difficult to get him to listen to us and take our advice on how to communicate.”
Cope’s communicators are being assisted by top international communications company Fleischman Hillard.