Cope MPs threaten to stop backing Lekota

After years of internal wrangling, five senior leaders of the Congress of the People (Cope) have issued party leader Mosiuoa Lekota with an ultimatum to drop all matters before the courts and seek a political solution that will accommodate his adversaries. Should he not do so, they are threatening to withdraw their support for him in these court actions.

Cope leaders Smuts Ngonyama, Juli Kilian, Thozamile Botha, Leonard Ramatlakane and Nqaba Bhanga – who are also members of Parliament – have until now supported Lekota in his prolonged leadership battle with Mbhazima Shilowa, who was expelled from the party in 2010.

On June 18 they wrote an internal memorandum to the party’s national office bearers in which they accuse Lekota of being divisive, and called for the party to find a political solution to the matters before the courts.

Among the many matters in the South Gauteng High Court is an application by Lekota to be declared Cope president.

The court has also been asked to rule on whether a conference the party held at the Saint George Hotel in Pretoria in May 2010 constituted a quorum as a congress or whether it was just a policy conference; whether the initial party constitution was amended at that gathering; and whether Shilowa’s election as party president in a later congress at the Heartfelt Arena in Pretoria in December 2010 was legitimate.

The Mail & Guardian spoke to some of the authors of the memorandum this week, who said they believed the solution to the matters in court would come from Cope members and not the courts.

“The courts have thus far merely siphoned money from the party, which could be spent on elections; it has been a vicious cycle,” said one of the MPs, who declined to be named.

In the memorandum, they propose that an out-of-court settlement be reached and that all the members who were expelled from the party – including Shilowa – be allowed to return and contest leadership positions.

“Should these matters not receive the urgent attention of the national office bearers, we will be left with no option but to consider immediate withdrawal of our support for the South Gauteng High Court actions,” reads the memorandum.

“We believe it is not too late to achieve an out-of-court settlement, which will make it possible for the party to, as a unified force, focus on rebuilding, planning a successful inclusive national congress and ultimately focus on full-scale preparations for the 2014 elections.”

Lekota refused to comment on the memorandum or whether he would consider settling out of court.

“I’m not at liberty to respond to the matter. It will be discussed in the congress national committee [meeting] on Saturday,” he said through his parliamentary spokesperson, Noko Moloto.

An extraordinary meeting of the committee has been scheduled for July 6 to consider the memorandum, after office bearers failed to agree at what has been described as a “heated” meeting in Kempton Park on Monday.

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