/ 13 December 2008

Cope: ANC has instilled fear in communities

The interim leadership of the Congress of the People (Cope) claims the African National Congress has instilled fear in communities, threatening people to refrain from supporting the breakaway party, or face severe consequences.

On the eve of the party’s inaugural conference in Bloemfontein its leadership has said its supporters who work for government are ”terrified” to come to the conference because of intimidation by the ANC.

”There are many men and women in government who support Cope, but they are terrified to even walk around in this hotel,” Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota told reporters, referring to the three-star President Hotel in central Bloemfontein.

”[Some supporters] are scared to be seen around me because it leads to their imminent departure [from their positions],” Cope deputy leader Mbhazima Shilowa added.

Lekota said the situation reminds him of the fear that people lived with during apartheid.

”You couldn’t even mention the name of Mandela and your parents will say you can’t.”

Lekota also warned that the media would come under pressure from the ruling party in the near future.

In an apparent reference to the planned ANC rally in Bloemfontein on December 16 to celebrate Reconciliation Day, Lekota said the ANC would pressure journalists to refrain from ”acting in the most informative way” when the media has to decide which event would enjoy priority.

Cope also scheduled a rally for December 16 at the Bloemfontein Cricket stadium to end its three-day conference.

The conference will open tomorrow with addresses by the interim leadership and guest speakers. Cope organisers have invited imminent public figures such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, but he has yet to confirm his attendance.

The conference will not elect new leaders but will appoint the current ones by consensus to lead the party into the 2009 elections, said general secretary Charlotte Lobe.

In an unusual move, the expected 4 000 delegates will on Monday be presented with a list of leaders once the constitution has been adopted and then be asked to endorse the leaders.

Shilowa says this is a move to have ”leadership by agreement” rather than contestation.

According to Lobe, the party would then decide on its list processes for the coming elections. Delegates who will form part of the leadership must have a ”proven track record of community service” and would reflect the various sectors of South African society, she said.

The unaudited membership figures for the party stands at 428 000, but Lobe says the tally is probably higher.

Cope will focus its campaigning on four provinces — Free State, North West, Eastern Cape and Limpopo — where the party feels it has a realistic chance of being the party in government, while the party will be part of a coalition government in the Western Cape, Northern Cape and Gauteng, a Cope leader said.

On Sunday the conference will be opened by Lekota and in the afternoon Shilowa will present the party’s first political report.