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Cope tussle: Combat by press release

Both sides in the war dividing the Congress of the People (Cope) say they will obey the courts, but while the supporters of Mosiuoa Lekota, the reinstated party president, welcomed the court’s ruling that he was unfairly ousted, the supporters of his rival, Mbhazima Shilowa, say they are looking at a possible appeal against it.

For the moment, however, the legal manoeuvring has given way to combat by press release. “Justice has been served,” said the Lekota camp. “By ruling that an unrepresentative, rigged meeting did not have the right to arrogate powers to itself to serve a narrow, factional agenda, the court has ensured that members of Cope alone in their entirety have the right to elect or recall their leaders though upholding the constitution of the party.”

The Shilowites said they believe that Cope needs to find political solutions to its problems and that no Cope member will gain the confidence of the people by rushing to the courts to intervene, no matter how aggrieved he may feel he is.

“While Cope respects its members’ right to appeal to the courts,” the Shilowa faction said, “history has shown that no political authority can be exercised in any other way other than the hard slog of winning the hearts and minds of ordinary people in the branches where the work of Cope to improve the lives of our people is happening every day.”

The Lekota faction agrees. Phillip Dexter, the head of communications, who was reinstated in the same court judgement that put his boss back in office, said in a statement on Monday: “Political issues should, as a rule, be dealt with in political structures.”

But he added: “When those structures cease to function as they should, the courts may be the only remedy.”

Political disputes
When political disputes arise in a party, over issues, leadership or any other matter, these are traditionally debated and then decided upon by a majority vote or by consensus, Dexter agreed, “But for that to happen, structures that deal with these issues must be democratic, transparent, act fairly, foster unity and be accountable,” he said.

“Sadly, in Cope, except for the CNC [congress national committee] and branches, no structures have been elected. They are all run by appointees, often self-appointed leaders at that. Some congresses have taken place, such as in the Gauteng regions and province, the Cape Town metro region and the Western Cape province.

“The outcomes of these conferences, however, have been widely disputed; not all branches were represented, the voting and other democratic processes were dubious and there was great uncertainty about who paid for the costs. In addition, violence has been used on more than one occasion to force a particular outcome of congress.”

The Shilowite putting out that side’s press statements, Onkgopotse JJ Tabane, who was nominated for head of communications at the aborted elective congress a week ago, has also become victim of a sharp press release.

Andies Keun, the leader of the Pretoria branch of the party, said in a statement he put out that Tabane continues to make statements and speak to the media claiming to represent the Congress of the People.

“For the record, Tabane is not, nor has he ever been, a spokesperson of the party. Tabane is, or was, an adviser to Cope Parliamentary leader, Mvume Dandala.

“Any press release or statement Tabane makes therefore has no status and the media are requested to ignore such.” — I-Net Bridge

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Michael Hamlyn
Michael Hamlyn works from Cape Town. Late middle age journalist

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