A YEAR after its formation, Cope is ravaged by reports of leadership disputes and local structures that are in disarray.
Sowetan political editor Ido Lekota (IL) spoke to Cope president Mosiuoa Lekota (ML) about the state of the party as an opposition party.
IL: It is now a year after the national convention that led to the birth of Cope. As part of the party's leadership core what would you say have been the party's successes and failures?
ML: Firstly I need to clarify that November is not Cope's first anniversary month. Our first anniversary is actually on December 16.
On that day we intend doing something along the lines of the ANC's January 8 statement. We will hold a public rally where will recommit ourself to the commitments we made in Bloemfontein last year to bring together South Africans of all races, creed and class in the spirit of reconciliation.
One of the key successes we can claim is in bringing this party into being - as the top most credible political alternative for the people of South Africa. We are also proud of the success we achieved in the general elections (7percent of the votes) as a new party.
Some of the criticism levelled at Cope are unfortunately based on the assumption that when the party started it had some formal structures on the ground. In fact, up to when Cope was launched in Bloemfontein there were no formal structures.
That is why the conference in Bloemfontein was not an elective conference - because there were no formal delegates representing provincial structures to elect the leaders. Hence the decision to have a consensus-based leadership.
IL: Seemingly it is the very consensus-based leadership that has failed to unite Cope.
ML: Firstly, one must admit that we were very optimistic about the future of Cope. Obviously we did not anticipate some of the developments. There were, for example, issues about the manner in which the election list was compiled.
On the other hand the consensus-based leadership did not cohere into a solid unit to lead the party. There were personality clashes (including the so-called tensions between Mbhazima Shilowa and me).
The late introduction of Mvume Dandala as presidential candidate (a move that some members opposed) compounded the situation. There was also the issue of a lack of resources. All these impacted negatively on the party.
IL: You recently raised concerns about Cope's ineffectiveness as an opposition party in Parliament. Some observers have questioned why someone like you (with your kind of parliamentary experience) did not become the party's leader in Parliament.
ML: There was and is still a lot of goodwill for Cope in the media. The challenge is that we should see the opportunities that are there and utilise them.
We must, however, also look at ourselves whether we have organised our team to be the most effective in executing the commitment we made to the electorate.
IL: One of the criticisms against Cope is that as a party it has not articulated any policy alternatives to challenge the ANC.
ML: As a party we believe in the supremacy of the Constitution of this country and the independence of the judiciary. We are against the Constitution being amended to suit the political whims of any ruling party. Most importantly we believe that the public service must be depoliticised. We are opposed to the ANC's current policy of deployment where people are employed in the public service for their political loyalty.
Cope does not believe that councillors should be paid the high salaries that the ANC deployees are currently earning while running very poor municipalities. How do you pay someone R30000 a month for running a municipality with no tar roads and other public amenities?
The argument that people are being paid high salaries in the public sector to prevent them from being attracted to the private sector is fallacious.
What happened to public service? Are we saying in this era we do not have people who are prepared to sacrifice? Are those who went to Robben Island for fighting for the freedom of this country the last generation prepared to sacrifice for the good of this country? It is people who want to use the state for self-enrichment who argue like that.
As Cope we say we'll put in these positions people who get minimum remuneration.
IL: Some Cope members have raised concerns about the party's move to form an alliance with the DA. Some, like Simon Grindrod and Allan Boesak, have gone as far as suggesting that the leadership is selling the party to the DA.
ML: We are having discussions with a variety of opposition parties, including the DA, looking at the possibility of working together on issues that are common among us. We don't know what kind of animal will come out of these discussions. The result could be a merger, a coalition or an election pact.
The argument about Cope mixing with a "racist" DA is not based on fact. Pieter Mulder - who is the leader of the rightwing Freedom Front - is now a deputy minister. Who is more racist between the Freedom Front and the DA?