/ 16 January 2014

Cope to purge rebels as soon as Parliament opens

Willie Madisha
Willie Madisha

The national elective congress of the Congress of the People (Cope) last week resolved to remove MPs and MPLs, as well as provincial leaders, who failed to renew their membership by October 31 last year. Most of those who did not renew their membership were supporters of Shilowa.

Cope's new deputy president Willie Madisha told the Mail & Guardian this week that those affected would be removed from positions as soon as the legislature and Parliament open.

"They didn't renew their membership by the 31 October deadline so they don't qualify to represent Cope."

Asked whether the party might risk losing even more support, Madisha insisted this is what members want and that it would stabilise the party.

Those who face expulsion include Zale Madonsela, an MPL in the Mpumalanga legislature, and Clara Motau, an MPL in the Gauteng legislature.

Madonsela was elected deputy president by a Shilowa faction, which eventually failed to secure recognition by the court. Motau is a former Cope Gauteng provincial chairperson and led a group of Cope members that tried unsuccessfully to get the high court in Johannesburg to interdict last weekend's congress and disqualify the new Gauteng provincial leadership.

Hellish battle
Madisha described the four-year internal leadership battle as "hell", and blamed a lack of trustworthy leaders for the turmoil. He said Shilowa had dragged the party to the courts many times to challenge the authenticity of Mosiuoa Lekota's leadership.

"We did not have, until last weekend, properly elected leaders. Everyone was acting. On the day that the court announced that our case is over, it was a relief."

Cope broke away from the ANC in 2008 and performed better than older opposition parties by securing 7.8% of the national vote in 2009. Then a leadership battle tore the party apart and support dropped to 2.14% in the municipal elections in 2011.

Some prominent members rejoined the ANC and others moved on to other parties. 

Madisha conceded that "party divisions killed us".

Public support
"When we started in 2008 people believed in us," he said.

"If it wasn't because of problems caused by factions, we believe we could be heading for the second [official opposition] spot in the country."

Madisha said the party was now working hard to avoid getting a result of less than 7%.

He said they were hoping the "people's anger towards the ruling party" and "hunger" for an alternative would help to swing some votes towards the party. It is currently the third most-represented party in Parliament.

"We've solidified our provinces because they had been divided by factions along [the lines of] Shilowa and Lekota. Now there's solidarity and unity. That's why we didn't have problems at the congress this time around.

"The people who were with Shilowa were very few but most of them are coming back into the party."

No coalition
Although Cope has suggested that opposition parties work together, this did not mean it was ready for a coalition and instead wanted to see the ANC get less than 60% of the vote.

The 54-year-old teacher who led teacher union Sadtu for 12 years said he would stick around in politics for some time.

"I'm not moving out of politics until death. My party will tell me if they want me to represent them in Parliament again or wherever they want to put me."

Despite repeated attempts to obtain comment from Motau and Madonsela, neither had responded at the time of going to press.