At least eight MPs and a large number of MPLs are getting ready to leave Cope ahead of the upcoming elections.
Congress of the People (Cope) MPs and MPLs are preparing to desert the party in droves ahead of the May 7 general elections.
The Mail & Guardian can confirm that at least eight MPs and a large number of MPLs are expected to ditch the party, mainly as fallout after a bruising leadership battle between Mosiuoa Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa that lasted four years.
Sources in Cope put the number of MPs and MPLs in talks with the ANC at 40, more than half of all Cope representatives in Parliament and all legislatures combined.
In the months leading up to the 2009 general elections, the then newly formed Cope was the most talked-about party and was seen as one that could reduce the ANC's overwhelming majority.
But the party is a shell of its former self, with insiders saying a number of senior members are preparing to return to the ANC, or move to opposition parties.
Struggle for votes
Cope looks set to struggle to retain the 7.8% of the national vote it got in 2009. Party insiders claim it is only targeting 3% of the vote in the May elections.
In municipal elections in 2011, its support dropped to 2.14%. An Ipsos poll on support for parties in November last year found that only 1% of those polled supported Cope.
Although most Cope MPs are looking to join the ANC, the M&G has established that at least one MP, Lorraine "Lolo" Mashiane, is among the confidential candidates on the Democratic Alliance list.
Cope general secretary Lyndall Shope-Mafole has written letters to five MPs asking them to provide proof they are fully paid-up members in good standing, otherwise they should vacate their positions. Former treasurer Hilda Ndude, Mampe Ramotsamai, Nonkululeko Prudence Gcume, Lolo Mashiane and Onell de Beer have received the letters.
MPLs in four legislatures have been asked to provide proof of membership. They are Clara Sodlulashe-Motau in Gauteng, Lucky Gabela in KwaZulu-Natal, Zale Madonsela in Mpumalanga, Thozama Bevu and Mbulelo Ncedana in the Western Cape and Sam Kwelita, Nomfundo Jamjam and John Korkie in the Eastern Cape.
Almost all the affected senior Cope members have been at odds with Lekota's leadership and are seen as supporters of former deputy president Shilowa.
It is rumoured that MPs Connie Blaai and Zola Mlenzana are in talks with the ANC. Mokgadi Raganya in the Limpopo legislature and North West party leader in the legislature Nikiwe Num are also said to be on the list of suspects talking to the ANC.
The Cope MPs and MPLs the M&G managed to contact and spoke to denied that they wanted to leave the party and some implied that they were being pushed out by Lekota and his fellow leaders.
Num said she was prepared to see out her current term as an MPL because she does not want to desert voters. "It's better to be kicked out by Terror [Lekota] than to desert voters who got me into this position."
Mbulelo Ncedana, Cope leader in the Western Cape legislature, said, although he was unhappy in Cope, he remained a member of the party.
Ncedana – who also claims to be the provincial chairperson of the party in the province, leading a structure that is not recognised by Lekota – would not speculate about what will happen after the elections.
The party is yet to name its list of candidates for MPs and MPLs.
Shope-Mafole said Cope was trying to put its house in order and should not be accused of forcing dissenting voices out. "When you expel someone it should be a person who is already your member. These are not our members," she said.
Asked whether Cope leaders weren't worried about losing so many leaders before the elections, Shope-Mafole said: "Will we lose them? Oh, we can't wait. We have got no problem with them leaving. In fact we are being unconstitutional because we have got people in Parliament and legislatures who are not our members."