/ 6 May 2011

Racial dynamics give hope to Cope

The drive from the airport in Kimberley suggests that there is only one political game in town: the ANC. The party’s posters and the face of President Jacob Zuma dominate the lampposts.

But beneath the supposed one-party domination there are massive efforts by local Cope leaders to raise funds for posters and show that, the fact that the party is broke does not mean its cause is hopeless.

Cope did well in the Northern Cape in the 2009 national and provincial elections; it won more than 15% of the vote and became the official opposition. Things fell apart when a battle between its national leaders, Mbhazima Shilowa and Mosiuoa Lekota, brought the party to its knees. But provincial leaders said this had little effect in the Northern Cape.

“The ANC provincial conference in 2008 was very divisive; things happened that we thought never possible. That left people wounded,” said Neville Mompati, until recently the Cope leader in the legislature and now back in the ANC fold.

At the conference he fought provincial strongman John Block for the ANC chair, amid allegations of vote-rigging. The losing side, Mompati’s supporters, opted out of the ruling party. Current Cope chairperson Fred Wyngaard offered a further explanation. “We were always strong here because we were Lekota people right from the start,” he said.

Wyngaard added that the phenomenon of parallel structures, whereby branches split into factions supporting Lekota and Shilowa, never featured in the province.

Mompati admitted that the ANC was given a run for its money in the Northern Cape, which is dominated by coloured people, including Namas, who were not as active in the anti-apartheid struggle as other groups. The ANC did not win a majority in the 1994 elections.

“We went into a coalition with the Freedom Front and that gave us the edge. We gave them a few seats in the provincial cabinet for that,” Mompati said. Wyngaard is convinced that, because of the province’s unusual racial dynamics Cope will win up to half the municipalities there.

“Coloureds make up 54% of the population. With the Independent Democrats gone, those people will come to us.”

‘Blessing in disguise’
In several small municipalities former ID leaders are now Cope lieutenants, rallying former branch members to switch to Cope, Wyngaard said. He shrugged off Mompati’s defection to the ANC two weeks ago, saying that he had always been a ruling party member “through and through” and that his departure was a blessing in disguise.

“People didn’t really trust us because he was such a strong ANC person,” he said. Senior members of parties had approached him to join Cope, he said. Mompati said the decision to quit Cope was painful and was one brought on by the constant conflict between the party leaders. He was appointed as mediator between Shilowa and Lekota but said that one or the other was constantly reneging on agreements.

“ANC politics is really all I know and a group of the party’s most senior leaders called me to Luthuli House to talk to me recently. It is that thing of elders. If they ask you to do something, how do you refuse?”

We head for Colville, a poor coloured suburb previously run by the ANC, to test Cope’s support. Colville used to be home to national leaders, including Minister of Agriculture Tina Joemat-Pettersson. But the case of single mother Antoinette van Heerden shows the ANC is no longer so popular here.

Living with her 14-year-old son, Van Heerden rents a room in a house with no running water. She has been on the housing list for decades, but whenever a municipal official produces a list of recipients her name does not feature.

“They come with a list of who can get a house and another of ANC members in good standing. Even if you’re on the list for a house, if you’re not on the other one then you don’t get one,” she said.

The 41-year-old has had three heart attacks and must reapply for her disability grant this year. She used to be an ANC voter but says the party “left me behind”. Now, when food parcels arrive, she gets wind of the delivery too late. “When I get there, there’s nothing left; you see young people carrying two hampers each.” Following the ID’s merger with the DA, Van Heerden said she would vote for Helen Zille.

Louisa Mogorosi, Cope’s candidate for Colville, said he decided to stand for the party because the ANC “has been the ruling party here for 17 years and has done nothing for the people”.

Asked why there seemed to be so few Cope supporters in the area, she said: “People don’t want to say because their vote is their secret. But in their hearts they know.”

By contrast, 22-year-old Marno Neels proudly displayed his Cope T-shirt. He said he had been a Cope member from the start and vowed to vote for the party.

Neels used to work for the nearby Kumba mine but quit when it became too hard to support his family on R4 000 a month. He looked confused when asked which Cope leader he supported.

“You caught me off guard with that question,” he said ruefully. “I would’ve known the answer but I’ve had something to drink so my mind is not that clear.”

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