Bishop elbows aside Lekota, Shilowa

Bishop Mvume Dandala is expected to be named as the face of the Congress of the People (Cope) on Friday after weeks of speculation about the presidential candidate of the party.

Dandala, the bishop for the Methodist Church in Southern Africa, elbowed out the two frontrunners for the job—Cope president Mosiuoa Lekota and his deputy Mbhazima Shilowa.

Cope’s national leadership met on Friday in Johannesburg and Dandala was confirmed after a marathon meeting.

He was a presiding bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa as well as president of the South African Council of Churches until 2003 before he took up a post to head the All Africa Conference of Churches in Kenya (AACC).

He is expected to be a moral voice to counter African National Congress president Jacob Zuma.

Cope insiders say the biggest reason the party chose Dandala was to “put a stamp on morals”—a move that they believe would give Zuma a run for his money.

Dandala’s two children have been actively involved in Cope activities. His son, former Isidingo star Hlomla Dandala was one of the first celebrities to come out in support of Cope.

His lawyer daughter Thobeka was a founding member of the Cope’s leadership institute—Cope College—and and also appears on Cope’s internal lecture circuit, giving talks to young professionals about the party.

Dandala has no formal political experience but is known for his efforts in conflict resolution in the 1980s, when he served as mediator to end the hostel violence in Gauteng.

Dandala’s appointment may raise suspicions again about Mbeki’s involvement in the new party because Dandala and Mbeki are known to be on friendly terms.

Mbeki held a congratulatory speech at his inauguration as head of the AACC and bestowed on him the Silver Order of the Grand Counsellor of the Boabab, the second highest honour an ordinary citizen can receive.

Dandala, however, wrote a letter with others in 2003 urging Mbeki to make nevirapine available to young HIV-positive pregnant women.

Dandala received numerous awards for peace and humanitarian work and holds two doctorate degrees in theology at universities in the former Transkei and Cameroon and he obtained a masters degree from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

One of Dandala’s former colleagues has reservations about his role as the face of Cope.

“Dandala did very well in the church and is highly respected. But I am not sure to what extent he will be able to operate in an oppositional relationship with the governing party.
He is well-respected in the ranks of the ANC and definitely had the ear of the [former] president [Mbeki]. It will be a complicated relationship.”

Dandala will however be able to secure the white affluent voters who are undecided, he says.

Dandala also has strong grassroots support in his home province, the Eastern Cape.

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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