Postponement of Cope MPL swearing-in ceremony causes anger

Cope supporters. (M&G)

Cope supporters. (M&G)

The ceremony to swear in veteran politician Dr Chris Liebenberg – who recently joined the Congress of the People (Cope) – as a member of the provincial legislature (MPL) has been postponed until Wednesday. It is now scheduled to take place after the budget speech of Northern Cape Finance MEC John Block (of the ANC), which begins at 10am.

The postponement has caused anger in Liebenberg's new political home.

According to Northern Cape Cope leader Fred Wyngaardt, this delay is an abuse of power by the speaker of the legislature, who comes from the ANC, because the rules of the legislature are "silent" on the time frame for the replacement of MPLs in the provincial legislature.

Media houses and Cope alike were surprised that the swearing-in ceremony, scheduled for 9am on March 11, was again postponed owing to the unavailabilty of the speaker, Kenny Mmoiemang, and his deputy, Juanita Beukes, because of a meeting in Johannesburg and ill health respectively.

Two provincial legislature seats became vacant after Cope national chair Pakes Dikgesti and Wyngaardt resigned to focus on Cope's election campaign full-time for the next two months.

Liebenberg and party provincial treasurer Ennie Mompe are tipped to replace Dikgetsi and Wyngaardt in the Cope provincial council and Congress national committees unopposed.

Official opposition
Dikgetsi is the premier candidate and Wygaardt on the number two spot on the list of the official opposition in the Northern Cape.

Mompe had to travel from Kakamas, which is more than 500km from Kimberley, and stay in hotels amid the delaying and frustrating tactics of the ruling party represented by the speaker, said Wyngaardt.

"The only sensible reason we gather from this latest act is that it is a well-calculated move to prevent Dr Liebenberg, who is a seasoned politician, to be in the house as ... Block delivers his 2013/2014 budget speech [on Wednesday]," said Wyngaardt.

"We are confident in securing a dent in the ANC's traditional support base jointly as the opposition so that we can form a coalition government and remove the corrupt liberation movement, which is entangled in massive corruption," he added.

In the Northern Cape, 620 000 eligible voters are registered, according to the IEC.
Cope received 69 000 voters in 2009, taking the opposition status away from the Democratic Alliance. While the ANC is targeting 70% of the vote in the upcoming elections, Cope's hopes are set on a coalition government after May 7.

Potential compromise
Wygaardt said they have three members currently in the legislature and the absence of Liebenberg and Mompe may compromise Cope's voice as the official opposition in the legislature.

Section 106 (4) of the Constitution of the Republic sets out what must happen when there is a vacancy in the legislatures .

However, the rules of the legislature are mum on the time frame set out for such replacements. 

Reacting to these claims, spokesperson for the legislature Mpho Masina said "there was nothing sinister about the postponements. Both the speaker and deputy speaker are absent, and it is easy for people to cry foul because of the their own interpretation of the rules of the House. Accordingly, the new members will be sworn in tomorrow just after the budget speech at 2pm," she said.

Wyngaardt and Dikgetsi are former MECs who defected from the ANC to form Cope and in 2009 they resigned from the legislature to focus on the party's election fortunes. They are known for staging a walkout with the rest of the opposition whenever Block addresses the house.

Vast experience
Liebenberg says that although he was once DA leader in the province, he was party-less when he joined Cope and will use his vast experience to keep the ruling party on their toes.  

Mompe is a provincial political novice who was only elected as provincial treasurer at the party's elective conference in January 2014.

Cope candidate in 2009 and Block's challenger in the 2008 chaotic ANC provincial conference in Moshaweng, Neville Mompati, is, according to Wyngaardt, in the political wilderness after he rejoined the ANC in 2011.

Dikgetsi was "tasked to engage him back with the hope of utilising his vast skills and experience in the provincial politics; Mompati is in the cold since his return to the ANC three years ago", said Wyngaardt.

It would be a major coup for Cope if Mompati, who is respected throughout the Northern Cape for his political acumen and integrity, is won back to the Cope cause.

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