'Not just another party'

Rapule Tabane puts tough questions to Cope deputy president Mbhazima Shilowa

The projections are that you are going to be just another opposition party that will end up on the margins like the UDM.
The attraction of the Congress of the People [Cope] for many South Africans is that it is not just another opposition party. It’s the only party with the potential to topple the ANC in many provinces in coalition with other parties. Nationally we could ensure that the ANC majority goes under 50%.

Haven’t you antagonised young black professionals by questioning affirmative action?
For as long as women, black people and disabled people are not represented in certain echelons of companies we support AA.
But we have to distinguish people who get appointed because they have connections. It’s also important that in whatever we do on poverty we look beyond Africans. Except for comrade Jimmy Manyi [chair of the Black Management Forum], who’s decided to be the cyberspace squatter on Cope, there’s no difference in how political parties want to handle this issue. When Jacob Zuma went with Solidarity to a squatter camp for whites, he said it is important to look after these people as well. Kgalema Motlanthe has raised issues about AA. We say yes to empowerment, not cronyism and nepotism.

You say the ANC is no longer the ANC of Luthuli, Tambo and Mandela. Why has Mandela publicly endorsed Jacob Zuma?
We respect Mr Mandela’s right to endorse the party of his choice. But we remain of the view that the current leadership is not that of Luthuli, Tambo and Mandela. The intolerance, purging and incapacity to accept dissent would not sit well with those leaders.

South Africans have waited with bated breath for the big guns to join Cope. Where are the likes of Sydney Mufamadi and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka?
You need to distinguish between people who stepped down from Mbeki’s Cabinet because of the Nicholson judgement and those who supported the formation of a new party. We made the choice to start Cope. We never made the pronouncements that they will join us. But watch this space!

What democratic credentials can you claim when Cope leaders were “agreed on”, not elected?
When we met on December 16 last year we said: how do you put together leadership by consensus to lead us into the next conference, where we have properly constituted branches, regions and provinces? Even the Bolsheviks had an interim structure.

You criticise Cosatu for being close to the ANC. Yet isn’t Willie Madisha leading the formation of a union that will be an offshoot of Cope?
Many of us were Cosatu leaders and we urged people to vote for the ANC. But we didn’t purge people because they didn’t support the ANC. As leader of Cosatu I accepted banking union Sasbo, but they made it clear they will not fund ANC political campaigns. But Cosatu now says you cannot be a Cosatu member and support Cope. They’re driving out our members who now want to form their own union, and we’ll assist them. But Madisha is not working under Cope instructions. He’s a worker himself.

On macroeconomic policy, how do you differ from the ANC?
There’s very little difference among South Africans on the issues they feel strongly about—poverty, unemployment, crime ... It’s not us who had problems with the ANC’s macro­economic policy—it’s the guys in charge now; they wanted the policies changed. The irony is how do you remove the class of 1996 and keep its personification, Trevor Manuel?

Aren’t you tainted by the Carl Niehaus scandal? You knew, but failed to act.
The buck stopped with MEC [Paul] Mashatile. I’ve been open about this. I was the only source mentioned by name in the Mail & Guardian exposé because I had nothing to hide.

The contest between you and Mosiuoa Lekota for the presidency looks very damaging for Cope.
There’s no contest—Lekota is president and I and Lynda Odendaal are deputies. Lists processes happen in all political parties. An open democratic process is under way; none of us can say we won’t accept the outcome.

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane is the Mail & Guardian's politics editor. He sometimes worries that he is a sports fanatic, but is in fact just crazy about Orlando Pirates. While he used to love reading only fiction, he is now gradually starting to enjoy political biographies. He was a big fan of Barack Obama, but now accepts that even he is only mortal. Read more from Rapule Tabane

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