What's in a name?: Cope confident at court ruling

Cope was confident that the court would rule in its favour in naming the party the Congress of the People, its deputy chairperson Mbhazima Shilowa said on Wednesday.

Speaking outside the Pretoria High Court, where argument was heard on the African National Congress’s bid to interdict Cope from using the name, Shilowa said it had been difficult for the ANC to argue its case.

“We believe that we have legitimate arguments. We are working on the basis that the court will rule in our favour,” he said after being asked what the party would be calling itself at its official launch next week.

Earlier on Wednesday, a full bench, including Judge President Bernard Ngoepe, reserved judgement on the matter.

Shilowa said the ANC had battled to provide a shred of evidence that Cope was attempting—by using the name Congress of the People—to misrepresent or “pass ourselves off” as the ANC.

The ANC is opposing the choice of name on the grounds that no party or person could exclusively appropriate the name of the 1955 event and the Freedom Charter which stemmed from it.

Cope maintains that the electorate will not be confused by the name and the event because of the 53 years that have passed and, in addition, that the electorate is smart enough to know the difference.

Chris Job, lawyer for the ANC, said neither parties could have wished for a better opportunity to air their arguments.

He said the ANC remained steadfast in its view that it would be inappropriate and unlawful for any one party to adopt the name of an historic and seminal event and the exclusive rights to its name.

However Shilowa said in court papers the ANC had even referred to the emerging party as the Congress of the People, which indicated that they were simply running scared.

“They know that there is a political party called the Congress of the People. They have seen our regalia, they have seen our logo, that’s why they’re running scared,” he said.

Shilowa left the court shortly before 4pm with a small group of ANC supporters chanting “ANC.”

As his car drove past the court, one woman in the crowd said: “Shame, he must be lonely without his blue lights,” at which the group broke into laughter as it dispersed.

Earlier, counsel for the ANC, Philip Ginsberg, SC, argued that the name would give the “Johnny come lately” and “new kid on the block” party immediate respectability, legitimacy and a “jump start”.

He said it would place Cope in a position where they could—in the run-up to the 2009 elections and beyond—curtail, stifle and undermine the ability of the ruling party to engage in full and unfettered political expression.

The attempt to adopt the name was also mischievous because the party did not provide the “whole truth” about its motivations for the name.

“They did so in order to get the shine. Why choose a name that gives you off the shelf credibility, respectability and legitimacy? Why not pick an uncontentious name?” he argued.

Ginsberg said the party was attempting to own the piece of history that Congress of People meeting in 1955 had carved.

He argued that if Cope were to be the registered name, then they would become the historical event.

This was queried by Ngoepe, who said he did not think that if a Scotsman called John Smith was to arrive in South Africa and call himself Albert Luthuli, he would liken him to the real Luthuli.

Counsel for Cope said the ANC’s arguments were “short and scanty on the facts”.

He argued that the name could, in terms of legislation, be trademarked to the party.

He said that the name would not confuse or mislead people into believing that the party stemmed from the event in 1955.

If judgement was upheld on misrepresentation, then the ANC would need to prove that there was damage caused.

“The damage is in the air because his [Ginsberg’s] papers do not support him.” - Sapa

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