COP hits the campaign trail

Four provinces are gearing up for possible Congress of the People (COP) governments after a week of campaigning by leaders of the new party aimed at wooing voters and members. The Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Western Cape and North West are giving early indications that COP is gaining enough support to become the ruling party, probably in coalition.

Western Cape
In the Western Cape COP organisers are aiming to force by-elections wherever possible by having sympathetic ward councillors quit to fight new elections.
The aim is to demonstrate strength and to ‘tie up the ANC”, forcing it to divert its resources and energies from its national campaign.

By-elections are expected in the Overberg and Boland regions and provincial convenor Leonard Ramatlakane says more are anticipated.

The DA had hoped to wrest control of this province from the ANC with the help of the ID and smaller parties it already partners in the Cape Metro. In 2004 the DA won 27% of the vote, and about 170 000 former New National Party votes are up for grabs this time around. COP has its second-largest provincial presence here, behind only the Eastern Cape.

The most likely outcome is an opposition provincial government, led by or including COP.

Northern Cape
COP conveners in this province have recruited 3 500 members since the weekend convention in Johannesburg.

A provincial steering committee has been set up to lead the establishment of interim branch structures.

Says provincial convener Fezile Kies: ‘The name issue held us back because we already had membership forms printed.”

The ID and the DA hope to mop up an increasing number of voters who, polls indicate, are ditching the ANC in this province. There is great dissatisfaction among ANC members after Luthuli House backed John Block for the party chair against popular candidate Neville Mompati. The ANC polled 69% in 2004, but the rupture in the party could cost it control to a possible coalition of COP, a growing ID (7% in 2004) and the DA (11%).

About 23 000 former NNP voters are open to persuasion.

Eastern Cape
Given that it is the ANC heartland and the province that was most vocal in its support for former president Thabo Mbeki, the Eastern Cape will see the fiercest contest between the ANC and COP.

Most voters are in the former Transkei and Ciskei homelands. In the latter, COP is secure because the region has been under control of COP treasurer Mluleki George for decades, even before the ANC was unbanned. Also, most delegates to the COP convention hailed from the OR Tambo region, which comprises the former Transkei, signalling significant support there.

This week ANC provincial spokesperson Andile Nkuhlu and former premier Nosimo Balindlela resigned from the ANC and the resignations of some provincial ministers are imminent, ANC and COP sources say.

This week, too, the leaders of the breakaway party in the province shifted their attention to rural areas, where they are meeting traditional leaders. This is also the third-largest province in terms of voter turnout in 2004 (2,8-million, of which 1,8-million, or 79%, went to the ANC).

KwaZulu-Natal
COP has yet to strike deep roots in this province, with the mobilising mostly concentrated in the coastal cities of Port Shepstone, Durban and Empangeni.

Volunteers are not from the ANC, but there are plans to lobby of provincial and regional ANC leaders.

The Minority Front’s 3% of the vote (72 000) in 2004, combined with the UDM’s 20 000-odd votes, helped the ANC wrest control of the province from the IFP and its partners in 2004. The ANC won 1,3-million votes to the IFP’s one million. Post-Polokwane, Zuma has wooed the king and traditional leaders, but conflict over name changes in Durban has mobilised IFP supporters. Indians in the province have become largely indifferent, prompting Fatima Meer’s call for the relaunch of the Natal Indian Congress.

The DA hopes to gain more support from this constituency.

Gauteng
COP seems to be struggling to get branches going in Gauteng, but here the key to voting support is not through structures but by capturing the imagination of urban voters looking for something fresh.

Newly appointed coordinator Malusi Booi says regional leaders have gone back to mobilising their constituencies.

The movement is targeting all regions in the province, especially Ekurhuleni and Tshwane. ‘We’re targeting people who’ve lost hope in the youth leadership,” Booi said, adding that regional leaders would report back to the provincial conveners on Sunday and an interim provincial leadership would be elected.

COP is sure to attract votes from people who are not in formal political structures. At present the ANC’s support stands at 55%, according to the party’s research, and COP’s Obama-style campaign, appealing to younger people and disillusioned voters, will make it hard for it to hold the 68% (two million votes) it won in 2004. Recent polls show 20% of Gauteng’s 2,4-million voters are ready to swing.

The DA has polled well in the province and the ID’s support has grown.

Free State
COP will target half of the provincial vote, but is more likely to obtain about a third. Many pockets of ANC members are unhappy with the provincial leadership.

But the province remains a predominantly ANC stronghold, as evidenced by the large crowds Zuma drew during his visit there last week. Zuma enjoyed 80% support from Free State ANC branches pre-Polokwane.

COP is more likely to make an impact in the 2011 local government elections. The party will also gain momentum in the province when it launches on December 16 in Mangaung. Infighting in the ANC could dent the ANC’s majority.

The ANC received 81% of the vote (827 338) in 2004, with the DA polling about 86 000 votes and the Freedom From Plus about 24 000.

Mpumalanga
This will be one of the most difficult provinces for COP to crack. But support there is slowly gaining momentum, according to its leaders, who hope at least to register an overwhelming election victory in the province’s largest region, Bushbuckridge.

COP provincial leader Sizile Ndlovu says the party is drawing considerable support from communities in the Bushbuckridge region unhappy with services and claiming that houses are going to Zuma supporters.

More than 90% of ANC branches in this province voted for Zuma pre-Polokwane and the ruling party’s 86% majority in 2004 (953 000) is unlikely to fall dramatically.

In the last election the DA won 77 000 votes, the FF+ 14 000, the UDM 11 000 and the IFP 10 000. There are thought to be about 5 000 former NNP floating voters.

North West
The silence of COP in the North West is misleading—it is the province the party has the best chance of governing. With 1,7-million voters, the province supported Mbeki for a third term pre-Polokwane. A major, continuing headache for the Zuma camp is the ANC provincial executive committee (PEC), which is dominated by Mbeki acolytes.

‘They’re not sure whether the secretary they’re speaking to or the chairperson they’re speaking to is loyal to them,” said COP’s provincial convener, Paul Mnguni, who is also the South African National Civic Organisation chair in the province.

‘We expect up to 90% of the PEC members to cross to COP,” said Mnguni, who says COP has a presence in all North West regions and interim regional committees are being set up. Mnguni put the North West ANC branches at more than 300 and predicts that the ANC will not win more than 30% of the vote in the province next year.

‘When [Julius] Malema opens his mouth people join Shikota [COP], and then Angie [Motshekga] opens her mouth and more people cross to Shikota,” he quipped. COP is using door-to-door campaigns to mobilise ANC branches.

The official opposition is former homeland leader lucas Mangope’s United Christian Democratic Party, followed by the DA, which garnered 5% of the vote (64 925) the FF+ (17 123), the ACDP (15 138), the UDM (12 513) and the PAC (10 923).

Limpopo
Leaders of the COP party in Limpopo had to scramble last week to accommodate 900 delegates who insisted on attending the convention in Johannesburg—400 more than they were allowed to bring.

Newly elected COP chairperson Solly Mkhatshwa sees this as a sign that the party is making serious inroads in the province, which has always been regarded as one of the ANC’s strongholds. He says most of the ANC members who want to join the party come from branches that were disqualified from attending the provincial ANC conference earlier this year. Mkhatshwa said COP had already distributed more than 5 000 membership forms to various regions. The new party will start its election campaign as early as next week.

But based on its previous performance, the ANC’s majority here—it won 1,4-million votes (89%) in 2004—is secure. The DA polled 58 000 votes, the UDM 28 000 and the PAC 15 000 votes.

Marianne Thamm is a fellow of the Open Society Foundation

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Mmanaledi Mataboge is the Mail & Guardian's political editor. Raised in a rural village, she later studied journalism in a township where she fell in love with the medium of radio. This former radio presenter and producer previously worked as a senior politics reporter for the Mail & Guardian, and writes on politics, government, and anything that gives the disadvantaged, poor, and the oppressed a voice.
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