Prominent Congress of the People (Cope) members are heading back to the African National Congress (ANC) following what one called the “disastrous 2010” the breakaway party had last year.
And in a further blow to the fledgling party a United States diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks suggests former president Thabo Mbeki was intimately involved in the formation of Cope, particularly the drafting of policy documents.
Four former Cope members are involved in talks with the ANC to chart a way to rejoin the ruling party. They are former spokesperson Onkgopotse JJ Tabane, former youth leader Lunga Kepe, Andile Nkuhlu and John Ngcebetsha. All were formerly aligned with Cope deputy president Mbhazima Shilowa.
Kepe, Nkuhlu and Ngcebetsha wrote a letter to Cope’s leaders in July 2009 urging them to hold an elective conference urgently. The request fell on deaf ears and during 2010 they left Cope one by one.
Rumours that Lyndall Shope, Cope leader in the Gauteng legislature, and Smuts Ngonyama, Cope’s head of policy, would also return to the ANC fold could not be confirmed this week.
Shope told the Mail & Guardian that such rumours peddled her name and Ngonyama’s to create an impression of instability in the faction of Cope president Mosiuoa Lekota. Ngonyama could not be reached for comment.
A source with intimate knowledge of the processes under way with the four now known to want to rejoin the ruling party said the ANC in Gauteng was talking to Tabane, Kepe, Nkuhlu and Ngcebetsha about the “role they can play in the society”.
The source said the four men, who are all involved in business, are not looking for government jobs but rather state contracts from which their companies could benefit.
Ngcebetsha is the lawyer of controversial ANC businessman and funder Sandi Majali, who died under mysterious circumstances in December.
Gauteng provincial ANC chairperson and arts and culture minister Paul Mashatile and ANC national organiser and Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula are the ruling party members believed to be talking to the four.
The talks will be concluded next week, according to the source. The ANC had planned to “parade” the returnees at the January 8 celebrations in Polokwane but because the talks were not finalised by then, the plan was dropped, the source said.
Shope said the planned return of the four was a sign that the Shilowa faction of Cope was falling apart. “There are a lot of people who used to be with Mbhazima and are going back to the ANC, so they have a credibility problem.”
Referring to the audit report on Cope released last year, Shope said those fingered in it were “Mbhazima’s people”.
Rumours that she and Ngonyama would return to the ANC started last year during Cope’s December congress, Shope said. She was once a member of the ANC national executive, the ruling party’s highest decision-making body. Ngonyama used to be the party’s national spokesperson.
Mbeki’s involvement in the origins of Cope, when senior ANC members broke away from the party, has been a perennial rumour that has equally often been dismissed by those who were involved in the party’s formation. But this week’s WikiLeaks revelation does chime with the whispers that Mbeki was the brains behind the party.
A United States diplomatic cable leaked to Media24 on Thursday said there were “strong indications” that Mbeki was the brains behind Cope. “Former president Thabo Mbeki reportedly had a hand in drafting a six-page policy document for the newly formed Congress of the
People and has influence in how Cope is drafting a foreign policy vision,” says the cable.
The leaked diplomatic document contains an instruction from then US ambassador Eric Bost to pass this information on to then assistant secretary of state for Africa Jendayi Frazer.
The cable, marked secret, was written on December 5 2008, a month after the national convention that led to the start of the Cope. The party’s official launch took place less than two weeks later, on December 16.
The cable says its information was obtained by the US embassy in Pretoria from University of South Africa professor Dirk Kotze, who had told the US diplomats he was in close contact with Ngonyama, formerly Mbeki’s spokesperson.
According to the cable, Kotze said: “Smuts made it very clear that it [Cope’s policy vision] came from Mbeki. The document carried all the hallmarks of many of Mbeki’s letters from the ANC. Upon receiving my foreign policy ideas, he told me he had to run it by Mbeki before any decisions were made.”
Ironically, Kotze recommended that Cope take a foreign policy route that would align South Africa more closely with Western countries, but Mbeki, when head of state had had a frosty relationship with the US.
“Kotze’s comments are the strongest indication — that Mbeki may be putting his weight behind the new party,” the leaked cable says.
Kotze, Ngonyama and Mbeki’s spokesperson, Mukoni Ratshitanga, on Thursday reportedly denied the information contained in the cable.
ANC spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi told the M&G on Thursday: “We are not commenting on leaked documents.” From the start of the WikiLeaks revelations last year, the ANC has taken the decision not to comment on anything in the diplomatic cables.
Asked whether the ANC leadership, which used a court judgment as reason to remove Mbeki as state president, would use this information against the former party leader, Mnisi said: “Our relations with our former presidents and former members are not influenced by documents like these.”