Lekota: ANC culture a threat to democracy

The Congress of the People’s (Cope) president Terror Lekota said on Saturday South Africa’s democracy is being undermined by a culture of intolerance within the African National Congress (ANC) that resulted in violence against members of his party during the April elections.

“There was a lot of hate speech and physical attacks. How can a party that championed democracy deny people freedom of speech?” he said halfway through Cope’s three-day national conference in Cape Town.

“It is a culture of intolerance of opposition and critical voices by the ruling party. In particular that culture focused on Cope.”

Lekota, a former ANC chairperson and Cabinet minister, said his fledgling party which holds 30 seats in Parliament suspected that the shooting of Cope official Gerland Yona in the Eastern Cape on election day was politically motivated.

“Although the matter is still under investigation, there are indications that this is not just a criminal act.”

He said several Cope members were maimed in other attacks, adding that last month’s polls also saw clear attempts at election fraud and the abuse of state funds to sway voters.

“Leaders of government from the ruling party used public resources in such a way as to hold citizens to ransom so that they should vote for it.
These are very disturbing trends because they affect the quality of our democracy.

Lekota left the ANC in protest last year after Thabo Mbeki was recalled as president, but on Saturday said a failure to address corruption was one of the reasons that convinced him he had to leave.

“When people were caught in blatantly corrupt activities, rather than address it there was a tendency to close ranks around each other. I decided I could no longer be part of it.”

Lekota said his own party was hamstrung by a lack of funds, but conceded that after being launched with much fanfare it also made tactical mistakes in the run-up to the election.

It polled just more than 7% to become the third biggest party in Parliament.

“We have taken note of the fact that we started on a very high note, but due to various circumstances our campaign did at some point suffer, sometimes for reasons beyond our control but there were also misjudgements on our part.

“We were bound to have fits and starts.”

Lekota said the three-day meeting would decide on a date for Cope to hold a conference to formally elect its office bearers and decide how it would fine-tune its policies and build structures.

Cope’s founding conference in Bloemfontein in December decided that a leadership vote should be held within two years, but it could be sooner than that, he said.

Delegates at the weekend chose Mbhazima Shilowa, Cope’s first deputy president, as its chief whip in Parliament and 11th-hour ANC defector Dennis Bloem as the whip in the National Council of Provinces.

Lekota denied reports of internal strife about his move to remain at party headquarters instead of taking up a seat in Parliament.

He said he had decided even while he was still in the ANC, that he wanted to give up his seat in the National Assembly and was happy to leave the role of parliamentary leader to the party’s presidential candidate, political novice Mvume Dandala.

Four of Cope’s media officers—JJ Thabane, Sipho Ngwema, Palesa Morudu and Lorato Tshenkeng—have stopped working in recent weeks in protest at not being paid.

Party communications chief Phillip Dexter said the dispute was unfortunate but that nobody who volunteered to help Cope establish itself and campaign for the elections was offered a salary.—Sapa

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