A LOT of things have been said about coalition politics in South Africa. Straight after the elections, even before the last tally, opposition parties were already writing a new chapter in order to survive.

There is a universally accepted fact that the arrogance of the ruling party will not be defeated by any one of the political players in South Africa. Anyone can understand this without being a political scientist.

Many parties were a victim of the 2009 elections momentum that ended up being a three-horse race contested by the ANC, DA and Cope .

While Cope did well as a new force in politics, garnering 1,3million votes in four months, many expected it to do much better. The worst case scenario was an expectation that it should have overtaken the DA as official opposition.

The DA, however, knows it has reached some kind of ceiling with its appeal to a largely white voter base and that Cope's performance, ending up as the third biggest party in parliament and an official opposition in five legislatures, is a feat that even the DA has not managed to achieve in 10 years.

What has been apparent in the last months is that the DA has taken a lead in the talks about how the politics of alignment must unfold.

It will be hard to convince anybody that their agenda to defend white interests has not been changed by their realisation that they need to work with a new player like Cope to deal with the ANC.

Many members of Cope, and certainly the youth, are clear about the fact that Cope cannot play into the hands of the DA to a point of being swallowed up. Cope has multiple fold potential of attracting the majority of the black vote necessary to ultimately govern this country, more than the DA can ever dream of.

It is clear that unless a coalition of forces to take on the ANC is led by a credible black opposition, the ANC will continue to rule for a long time to come. This because voter patterns are still along racial lines if the last election is anything to go by.


Many Cope members still feel that there is a need for thorough consultation about what our tactics should be, given that we are a new and largely disorganised force, in dealing with other opposition parties. The strategy is only known to a few and has not been made a subject of wide consultation in Cope.

What irritates some of us is that even at high level meetings such as that of the CNC, there are no coherent discussion documents ever tabled in this regard. There are consistent whispers in our structures that our unstructured approach to this issue might cost us the black vote.

We cannot take kindly to already being labeled the black DA. There is a brewing dissent in Cope, which the youth will lead, about ensuring that there is a democratic engagement about how we deal with parties that our people see as promoting a self-serving imperialist agenda. So my remarks need to be understood in this context.

Cope must never apologise for its leadership role in this whole fiasco. If Cope were to decide not to participate in building a strong alliance of opposition against the ANC, it is unlikely to succeed. The assessment of Cope's first year suggests that we need to get our house in order first before making ourselves a vulnerable partner. We are facing internal revolt and yet we are trying to take on a project that has the potential of obliterating our identity.

A party that has not finalised its leadership and policy positioning has to be cautious about jumping into bed with those that have had years to consolidate their structures. It is because of this position of weakness that Cope must choose its friends carefully.

One is stunned that not a single joint initiative has been pursued with any of the black opposition parties. Contrast that with the controversial joint press conferences on matters that have not even been fully canvassed in Cope, and you are left wondering if the tail is not wagging the dog?


I have been frustrated with the DA making pronouncements about Cope's state of readiness to engage in talks.

For a so-called partner to dictate how they will deal with us and make suggestions about us "electing our leaders first before they can fully engage with us" is most arrogant and cannot be ignored as signs of a partner whose genuine commitment to this cause is suspect, and who has confirmed in private and in public that they might never be prepared to accept the leadership of a floundering Cope struggling to find its feet, and will be out to dominate this arrangement.

We know this is a debate that rattles our leaders who are nursing the relationship with the DA, but our people must come first in being made comfortable with whatever arrangement we'll settle for with the DA.

Even the DA will appreciate this consequence of dealing with a democratic organisation like Cope. In the by-elections that we have partnered with the DA, our voters have rejected that coalition and voted for the ANC. Can we ignore these early signs?

l The writer is chairperson of the Cope Youth Movement