'Stop squabbling,' say Cope youth

A group of prominent young leaders serving in the Congress of the People’s top structure is publicly pushing for an early elective conference instead of the proposed December 2010 meeting.

The four congress national committee (CNC) members spoke to the Mail & Guardian last week. They are convinced that a conference would begin healing the problems caused by continuing questions about the legitimacy of the current leaders.

The party has been rocked by the high-profile resignations of deputy president Lynda Odendaal and head of elections Simon Grindrod as well as by public spats.

Lunga Kepe, Andile Nkuhlu, Lawrence Khoza and John Ngcebetsha said they were speaking out because they fear that if the problems are not speedily resolved, the party will lose track of its founding vision of being an alternative to the ANC.

“[The conference] may well be earlier,” said Eastern Cape chairperson Nkuhlu. “Some of us would argue that it’s time for the current leadership to hand over.”

The young leaders cautioned that they should not be seen as rebels. “We don’t want to be seen as the young guns in the CNC who want to take over,” said Kepe. “But wherever we went this week our members asked if we’ve dealt with the issues openly or swept them under the carpet.”

Kepe sits on Cope’s communications committee, Khoza chairs the party in Gauteng and Ngcebetsha is Gauteng secretary.

The four said their sentiments are shared by other young leaders in the CNC, including party general secretary Charlotte Lobe.

Lobe took a different line on the conference, however, saying that “it is only realistic in December of 2010. We need to have branch elections, regional conferences and provincial conferences.”

A policy conference is scheduled for early next year.

The young leaders expressed their “impatience” with internal squabbles, saying Cope’s formation was “not just about an experiment; it’s about serving the country and the lives of the people”.

Sixty percent of Cope’s members are young and the party is chaired by leaders under the age of 40 in Gauteng, Eastern Cape, North West and the Western Cape.

The young CNC members called on senior party leaders not to shy away from the principles of a “modern party”, one of which was the separation of party officials from government.

This saw Bishop Mvume Dandala deployed as Cope’s parliamentary leader. His appointment is a key reason for the squabbles.

“We recognise the strength and the ability of Terror Lekota as the president, but we were confident enough to send someone else to lead the party in Parliament.”

The young leaders took the blame for failing to keep contact with the party’s members after the elections as reports of infighting grew.

“We failed our members; we took long to respond,” said Nkuhlu.

He said it is unacceptable that Cope’s website has been down since June 8 and that the media has struggled to contact the party because Philip Dexter is its only official spokesperson.

Cope has failed to use opportunities to play the role of an opposition party, said Nkuhlu.

“The media has been exposing government corruption and what did we do? We’ve been overwhelmed by these things [internal problems] instead of guiding our people on issues of corruption.”

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. Read more from Mmanaledi Mataboge

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