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16 Dec 2008 18:38
The Congress of the People vowed to rewrite history as the new movement’s mammoth battle with the ANC for votes kicked off at competing party rallies in Bloemfontein on Tuesday.
Cope named Mosiuoa Lekota as leader to steer it through the 2009 elections and rapturously welcomed anti-apartheid struggle stalwart Allan Boesak, a potential vote magnet in the Western Cape, into its ranks.
In its final session, the founding conference appointed former Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa as Cope’s first deputy president, and a political unknown from the same province, businesswoman Lynda Odendaal, as second deputy.
“She has no political profile, but it will be built,” Lekota said.
The leaders, chosen by what the party said was consensus, and not by a conference ballot, will hold their posts until 2011.
Lekota said the support the fledgling party has won in the weeks since it was formed in protest at the ANC’s sacking of president Thabo Mbeki proved its strength.
“The history of South Africa will never be the same again!” he told about 4 000 cheering delegates at the launch that, over three days, drew oaths of allegiance from farmers, pop stars and priests.
“When history books are written, all of you will be remembered for your bravery and your willpower to act decisively when the minute came that you realised our country was sliding [on] a downward path,” he said.
Lekota aimed a barb at ANC leader Jacob Zuma, saying no democratic country could have a president facing criminal charges and accused the ruling party of subverting justice like the apartheid regime had.
“The ANC is not committed to equality before the law,” he told a media briefing.
“In a democratic country there will be mayhem if you say the things these people are saying. Our country needs values, morals.”
At a rally in a packed and sweltering cricket stadium after the close of the conference, he urged Cope’s members to go out in force to win over voters ahead of the elections early next year.
“Even if the ANC calls for an early election we will show them that we are ready,” he told supporters, many of whom had come by bus from other provinces.
Across town, Zuma evoked the ANC’s past as the movement that fought and defeated apartheid.
“We all went through suffering.
Without forgetting the past we must move into the future together as one nation,” he told about 6 000 supporters at an event marking the 47th anniversary of the founding of Umkhonto weSizwe.
Its double purpose as an election rally was clear as Zuma danced with the crowd and a poet exhorted from the podium: “When you vote for ANC, think of those who have died.”
Boesak, in a rousing speech at Cope’s launch that recalled his activist days, accused the ANC of betraying South Africans’ hopes for a better life.
“We have to face the truth together.
Cope could bring fresh optimism and unite South Africans, he added.
“I look at you in all your rainbow splendour and I say to myself ‘there has never been a time like today’.”
The cleric rose to prominence in the 1980s as leader of the United Democratic Front, but fell from grace, serving a short spell in jail in 2000 after being convicted of fraud and theft of over R1,5-million of donor funds.
Lekota confirmed that Cope was considering giving Boesak a prominent position and said an announcement would follow.
He firmly rejected suggestions that the new party was a watered-down version of the ANC, saying it would set itself apart by respecting the judiciary and the Constitution and returning to former president Nelson Mandela’s vision of a rainbow nation.
The appointment of Odendaal, who is white, was proof of this policy, he said.
“I have absolute confidence in her ability but I do hope that her presence—and I say this without batting an eyelid—will show that this is an organisation for all South Africans, black, white and especially minority groups.”
Lekota said, however, that the party supported the government’s macro-economic strategies and would not seek to fix policies that were not broken.
“We have been part of the government until very recently and especially regarding the management of our economy we will fully support many measures.
“We will not change the things that have patently benefited the country.”
Cope’s leaders said they would resist overtures from the ANC to come back into the fold.
“There seems to be a crying wish from many people that we should go back to the ANC. Well, that’s not going to happen,” Lekota said.
The party has promised more high-profile defections to its ranks but Shilowa denied speculation that these would include the finance minister.
“Trevor Manuel remains a loyal member of the ANC,” he smiled.
Free State police spokesman superintendent Sam Makhele said no serious incidents were reported and that the day had gone smoothly. - Sapa
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