Cope's Mpumalanga chairperson, Sizile Ndlovu, has been forced to resign his seat in the provincial legislature to make way for Zali Madonsela.
Ndlovu had defiantly occupied the legislature seat when the party decided that Madonsela, the party's premier candidate and second on the list to the IEC, should be the one sworn in.
Ndlovu was always the first on the list but Sowetan has learnt that some officials had preferred former health and social development MEC Fish Mahlalela as premiership candidate at the time when he was said to be about to join Cope from the ANC.
A source said when Mahlalela indicated that he could not join Cope because his family was against it, Madonsela was suggested.
"This was just a day before the submission of the list to the IEC," the source said.
The party apparently cited gender equality as their reason for preferring Madonsela.
"Ironically, it was not an issue for Mahlalela to be a premiership candidate though he is also a man, but that became an issue with Ndlovu," the source said.
Sowetan has learnt that Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota, national organiser Mluleki George and general secretary Charlotte Lobe held a meeting in Witbank on Monday that resulted in the "forceful removal" of Ndlovu.
Bohlabela district Cope Youth League chairperson Milton Sibuyi said: "There is nothing we can do since the leaders have decided, but we know that Ndlovu was going to deliver better than Madonsela, who does not even enjoy support from most members in the province."
Cope spokesperson Phillip Dexter did not answer his phone nor return Sowetan's calls.
Mahlalela said: "Where do I fit in here, I'm just not involved."
Ndlovu said: "This is a sensitive matter. I cannot comment."
Madonsela could not be reached for comment.