At its birth last year, some pundits thought the Congress of the People might even draw enough support to prevent the ANC winning a majority.
At its birth late last year, some pundits thought the Congress of the People (Cope) might even draw enough support to prevent the ANC winning a majority in next week’s election.
Since then the splinter group of disgruntled senior ANC figures has seen its prospects ebb to the point that the only question is whether the ANC will win the two-thirds of seats in Parliament it needs to change the Constitution at will.
Estimates of Cope’s support range from 5% to 20%, according to a Nomura report. Its failure to gain more backing shows how difficult it has been to set up a party in just a few months on a slim budget, analysts say.
Its opponent is the formidable and well-funded grassroots political machine that is the ANC, the movement that won the decades-long struggle against white minority rule.
Africa’s biggest economy is teetering on the brink of its first recession for 17 years but Cope has struggled to win over poor black voters.
Many complain bitterly about the ANC’s failure to deliver on the promises of jobs, homes and better lives it made at the end of apartheid in 1994, but few contemplate political change.
“I’m not so sure about Cope,” said Vuyo Tsotso, who lives in a metal shack with no water or electricity in an informal settlement near Johannesburg and makes about R10 a day selling scrap wiring.
“I don’t think they care about us. I don’t think they’re going to give us the houses and jobs the ANC will,” he said.
Cope was set up by politicians who broke with the ANC last year after it forced out President Thabo Mbeki, accused of meddling in the graft trial of party leader Jacob Zuma—now cleared on a technicality and expected to become president.
The emotional connection to the anti-apartheid struggle is still an ANC trump card, even though Cope figures such as party leader and former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota also boast strong credentials from that era.
On top of that, many voters give more thought to patronage or tribal ties than policies, undermining the impact of Cope’s vows to clean up government and improve public services.
“In a society like South Africa’s, economic performance is not closely related to who you’re going to vote for. Other issues of identity and loyalty are very profound,” political analyst Nic Borain said.
Those on the receiving end of ANC dominance say the promise of 1994 has not blossomed into pluralistic government.
“A democracy in which one party rules 70% of the vote and all other parties vie for 30% of the vote is not a healthy democracy,” former president FW De Klerk told reporters.
Cope presidential candidate Mvume Dandala, a Methodist bishop, compared the loyalty of many to the ANC to the mentality of a battered wife who keeps returning to her husband rather than taking the drastic decision to leave.
“If there is anything that civil society and the churches owe the country, it is a political education that is not partisan, that would begin to teach people essentially how democracy functions,” he said.
“Our people have not yet made the connection between the power of the vote and the future of the nation.”
Speaking to reporters at the party headquarters in East London on Thursday, Dandala promised to root out corruption and poor service delivery when the party won power.
“We are convinced of the growth of Cope in the Eastern Cape and that come the 22nd, we will be given a mandate to govern the province.”
Dandala said it was unfair to blame the province’s problems on his party.
“One cannot underplay that significant numbers of our party are from the ANC. What South Africans need to bear in mind is that we are working as a collective. Together we are creating something new.”
He said Cope would work on improving the province’s economy, by re-establishing irrigation and dam projects.
He also promised to improve the economy around the province.
“Don’t take it as a given that the industrial sectors must remain in Port Elizabeth and East London. Our plan is to modernise the economy of the whole province.” - Reuters, Sapa