/ 30 August 2022

Cope crumbles as party leaders turn on each other


Renewed infighting in the Congress of the People (Cope) may finish off the party whose electoral fortunes have dwindled dramatically in recent elections.

The party, which took 30 seats in the national assembly in the 2009 national and provincial elections, now has only two MPs, and the number of councillors has plummeted from 269 nationally in 2011 to a mere 13 in the 2021 local government elections.

A lack of structures on the ground and infighting between its leaders has been responsible for the drop in support for the party, whose critics see it as being former president Thabo Mbeki’s creation. 

COPE was launched in 2008 after Mbeki’s defeat to Jacob Zuma as ANC president at the party’s national conference in Polokwane by his supporters who left the governing party.

Party leader Mosiuoa Lekota was involved in a vicious battle with Cope co-founder Mbhazima Shilowa, which saw the latter leave the party in 2010. The party was set up by supporters of ousted ANC president Thabo Mbeki in 2008.

Cope had set up interim structures in eight of nine provinces after the local government elections last November, when an internal assessment identified the lack of branches as a major weakness, but this process has itself become controversial, with Lekota challenging their legitimacy.

Infighting over council seats in Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg has also worsened the situation, and has led to the latest round of tit-for-tat suspensions in the party leadership. 

On Monday, Cope’s fortunes took a turn for the worse when deputy president Willie Madisha and spokesperson Dennis Bloem announced that the party’s congress national committee (CNC) had suspended Lekota, for failing to execute his duties.

Bloem said Lekota had also been responsible for creating division in the party by setting up parallel structures to those officially endorsed by Cope.

They issued Lekota with a letter of immediate suspension, instructing him to “cease to represent the party as its president until the outcome of your disciplinary hearing.”

According to the letter, Lekota’s execution of his parliamentary duties would still be discussed with the party leadership.

But, within minutes Lekota’s faction in Cope had hit back, claiming that Bloem, Madisha and deputy secretary general Mzwandile Hleko had been suspended by an earlier sitting of the CNC, held on 20 August.

Both factions have issued each other with letters of suspension, with each demanding that the other face an internal investigation, pending a disciplinary committee hearing.

Bloem said on Tuesday that the meeting held by Lekota and a “group of friends” was not a lawfully constituted meeting of the CNC and had no powers to suspend anybody.

“They are not a constitutional structure. We are the constitutional structure that took the decision to suspend Mr Lekota. We met on Sunday as the CNC and we suspended him.” 

Bloem said they expected Lekota to accept their authority and present himself for a disciplinary hearing into his conduct.

“The way forward lies with Mr Lekota. He has created this problem and he alone can come up with a solution. We expect him to accept the suspension and appear before the disciplinary committee so that he can state his case,” Bloem said.

Cope national chairperson Teboho Loate, an ally of Lekota, said that they had met as the CNC on August, with 17 of 30 members in attendance, and had taken a decision to suspend Madisha for attempting to take the party to court over an Ekurhuleni council seat.

Hleko had also been issued with a notice of suspension.

Loate said that although Madisha had withdrawn the action, he had brought the party into disrepute and his actions had financial implications for Cope.

Bloem had been suspended because of his public calls for Lekota to step down, Loate said.

Loate said Lekota had not accepted the suspension letter and would address a media briefing on Wednesday.