I'm no dictator, says Cope leader Lekota
Congress of the People leader Mosiuoa Lekota has vehemently denied running Cope as his personal fiefdom, insisting he has opposed all forms of dictatorship throughout his political career.
In an interview with the Mail & Guardian, Lekota also claimed that Cope would garner more support in the forthcoming election than in 2009, as its warnings about "the huge failings by the ruling party have confirmed that we are not false prophets".
"They've seen us go to bury comrades like Andries Tatane, who was involved in community struggles pushing for better service delivery; challenging the ruling party on fruitless and futile expenditure of the huge resources of our nation, and clearly they now understand that we know what we are talking about.
"The late Sicelo Shiceka, Dina Pule and the millions that went to Nkandla have proved us right. History has vindicated us."
Asked about accusations by leaders who have quit Cope that he has dictatorial tendencies, Lekota said he had risen to the upper echelons of the South African Students Organisation (Saso) by democratic processes, and had never been accused of acting as a dictator while a leader of the United Democratic Front or as KwaZulu-Natal convenor of the ANC.
"Anybody who was in Bloemfontein [at Cope's founding congress] would say it was a collective decision that this comrade must lead the party.
"If a decision of the party has been taken, I stick to that decision and give my everything to ensure that decision is carried out."
There is a widespread perception that persistent infighting and litigation over Cope's leadership, principally involving factions supporting him and Mbhazima Shilowa, have seriously damaged the party's electoral prospects.
The long-running dispute, which led to an exodus of national and provincial leaders, was finally resolved by the high court in Lekota's favour in November last year.
However, Cope has failed to exploit the initial surge of interest in it as a credible opposition force. In 2009 it polled 1.3-million votes, or 7.4% of total. In the 2011 municipal ballot, it polled about 570 000 votes (2.1%).
Despite this, Lekota insisted the party "is doing exceptionally well. Five years [since Cope was launched] we have established structures in all nine provinces, democratically elected leadership at branch, regional, provincial and national level … we are seasoned now."
He said that in 2009 many South Africans were not convinced about Cope's position that "the present administration was going the wrong way … Today you have more people who are satisfied that the ruling party is not the leadership that the country deserves, that the country deserves better."
"Perhaps not all of them will vote for Cope, but certainly the fact that they now confirm the correctness of our position must bring about a huge change."
Lekota said that Cope had issued a public apology "to say we are very sad and sorry" that Cope's internal problems had undermined public goodwill.
However, he cited Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema as saying that the party had been the target of a deliberate spoiling project by the ANC.
"Late last year Julius Malema said that … he was once present in a meeting of the top leadership of the ANC when they mandated Shilowa to come and infiltrate Cope and cause the ructions that we saw in the party," he said.
"This tells you that there was nothing wrong with Cope, but an operation to disrupt the party and discredit it … I'd say successfully. In spite of all that we were able systematically to defeat that attempt."
Asked if he still felt anger about the toppling of Thabo Mbeki as president that prompted his resignation from the ANC and the launch of Cope, Lekota said he had "never been angry … it's a complete misnomer".
He said he had written to ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe saying that Jacob Zuma's supporters were violating the principles of the Freedom Charter.
"Zuma was placed above the law; there were threats that those of us who didn't want to vote for him could be killed, and nobody called to order those who issued that.
"I said: where is freedom of conscience? The leadership … is just silent and happy. They never could answer the letter."
"When I spoke in the State of the Nation debate, the point I was making was: South Africa was happier at the time Mbeki was removed than it is today …"
"I am only angry about injustice. I am angry that after we had done all the work, they came in under Zuma's leadership and reversed it all."
Asked about Cope's relationship with the Democratic Alliance, he denied that the DA had ever approached him about becoming its presidential candidate, as it had with Agang SA leader Mamphela Ramphele.
But he did confirm his cordial relationship with DA leader Helen Zille: "I speak to Helen and everybody across the opposition, as well as some in the ruling party.
"One of the things you should not suffer from in politics is sectarianism … I believe that only those who are not fully confident of their own beliefs are afraid to meet others, or that instead of convincing them they might be convinced by them."