The Congress of the People (Cope) formally introduced its presidential candidate, Dr Mvume Dandala, to the media at Emperors Palace in Ekurhuleni on Monday.
Cope leaders tried hard to display unity amid rumours that Dandala was a compromise candidate to quell a looming internal battle over whether party president Mosiuoa Lekota or his first deputy, Mbhazima Shilowa, should stand as the presidential candidate.
“I believe it is my duty to do everything in my power to help our nation return to the dreams and hopes that we as a nation cherished in 1994,” said Dandala in his acceptance speech. He refused to name Cope leaders who approached him to accept nomination as the party’s presidential candidate, but said the request came to him “like waves” through “phone calls, meeting people — until the time when it became clear that this voice was coming from a more organised formation”.
Dandala, who has since resigned from all positions he was holding in the church and business sectors, said from the time Cope was formed he was willing to serve the party in any capacity, even if it was not a leadership role.
Meanwhile, Lekota denied claims that there were tensions within the party about Dandala’s nomination. “There is no tension at all,” he said. After embracing Dandala and repeatedly shaking his hand, Lekota said Cope believed in the former bishop because he never lacked the courage and willpower to make his views known, from the time that he worked with liberation movements such as the United Democratic Front during apartheid years. “We’re now sending you on a serious mission, [to] account for all of us,” said Lekota.
While the Cope congress national committee (CNC) was all smiles inside the hotel’s convention centre, a nearly embarrassing situation was playing itself out outside the venue. Members of the youth movement were chanting Lekota’s name, singing praise songs such as “Terror wethu” (Our Terror). A few of them spoke to the media, but refused to give their names, except for saying they were from the Soweto region. They carried posters that said “Lekota the face of election”, with some calling for a national youth conference before the April 22 general election.
“We’re not protesting, we’re here to support Lekota to be the face of the party,” said one of the youth members.
Asked if that meant they were unhappy with the choice of Dandala as a presidential candidate, the young people said they respected the decision of the CNC, but that they wanted to have a say on “issues that also affect branches.”
A visibly embarrassed head of elections, Mlungisi Hlongwane, tried to calm the group down, while Lekota was fetched to hear their grievances. “I’d like to request that we do not engage on this issue in the manner that you are doing”, said Hlongwane. He accepted a memorandum that called for, among other things, “transparency, accountability and democratic processes, even if the decisions are in the interest of Cope”. The memorandum also reminded the national leadership that “CNC is not Cope”.
Lekota assured the group that he would put the national youth conference on the CNC’s agenda, but warned that it would be overshadowed by election campaigns. Almost all CNC members attended Monday’s press conference and went back into the meeting to discuss nominations for the premier candidates and other representatives for provincial and national legislatures. The outcome is expected by the end of the week.