LEKOTA IS FIGHTING FOR HIS POLITICAL LIFE
HINDSIGHT is an amazing condition of the human psyche. Once in a while it affords many of us a rare opportunity to seem and sound cleverer than we really are.
In the light of the current leadership squabbles in Cope, bucket-loads of hindsight intelligence are on display from many quarters regarding the cause of this.
Many commentators and analysts, this one included, are only too keen to point out not only to Cope but to all of us, that it was not such a smart idea for the party to defer the election of its leader to a later date, in favour of a split and therefore politically and structurally weak "consensus leadership structure" headed by Mvume Dandala.
It has become common wisdom now that this decision, taken at the party's Bloemfontein inaugural conference last year, was to avoid a potentially damaging leadership contest at a time when the party was still trying to find its feet amid a hostile onslaught from the ANC.
The intelligence of hindsight conveniently ignores the fact that at such a very early stage in the life of a new party, no working internal systems, policies, processes and even functioning internal structures existed at the time to handle a bruising leadership contest which can hobble even with the ANC Polokwane leadership contest.
Looking back now, there are grounds to give the party the benefit of the doubt for such a decision to avoid a leadership contest.
Still, with the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that a leadership that was not democratically elected is suffering from a severe lack of political authority and credibility.
None of the current leaders of Cope can bring their authority to bear on important and often difficult policy and strategic choices to be made.
Even the persistence of internal problems such as the alleged misuse of party resources, poor financial controls, weak administrative systems, ineffective infrastructure and weak disciplinary systems suggest a lack of authoritative leadership, either collectively or in the person of the current consensus party leader, to change things.
The party's oppositional strategy in the National Assembly seems rudderless at best and non-existent at worst, and not even Dandala seems able to hold sway in determining a strategy to build the party as a force in parliament.
Had he had sufficient legitimacy and authority to make decisions and carry the collective leadership of the party with him, that would have obviated the need for Mosiuoa Lekota to go public about internal issues of mismanagement, especially against his deputy!
However, the fact that he did suggests frustration and desperation from a leader unable to prevail in cleaning up an internal mess and shaking up the party to become an effective electoral machinery on the same level as the DA, never mind the ANC.
Lekota's going public on allegations of internal financial mismanagement was an attempt to go over the heads of his party's fractious leadership structures in order to appeal directly to the sense of shock, outrage and opprobrium from Cope supporters.
However, strategically this was also an attempt to win a public battle of hearts and minds in his leadership contest with Mbhazima Shilowa.
Coming as it did in the context of a bitter leadership confrontation with Shilowa, the timing of Lekota's public accusations of mismanagement against his deputy might have been strategically calculated to score heavily against Shilowa in the eyes of the party's rank and file.
However, many analysts have pointed out that this move was a political blunder that has not only backfired on Lekota and his supporters, but has also stunned Shilowa and his supporters into a series of vitriolic pot-shots aimed at Lekota and moves to humiliate him in public with threats of disciplinary action and even expulsion.
The responses clearly point to a politically and structurally weakened party leader. Analysts regard what Lekota did as politically and tactically a blunder.
But many political leaders in the country, given similar circumstances, would have done exactly the same thing. We saw recently, during the ANC Gauteng leadership contest, Nomvula Mokonyane releasing a potentially damaging confidential report detailing some unflattering revelations of graft during Mashatile's tenure as MEC for finance.
Lekota is fighting for his political life, and that makes him a lethal opponent for Shilowa. However, the contest is potentially fatal for Cope.
At this stage, Cope cannot afford this vicious contest - the re-scheduling of the elective contest, on the face of it, avoids dealing with the inevitable.
However, there is an opportunity for something positive. The party does not really need to be presented with the current choice of leaders. Clearly Shilowa and Lekota are killing Cope!
Electing either of these two will entrench factionalism because, just like the unbearable triumphalism we witnessed in the post-Polokwane ANC in 2007, one of the two factions in Cope will triumph and this will lead to witch-hunts and purges of members of the losing faction.
This will sow the seeds of a future split and guarantee the death of Cope as a political force.
Cope needs an urgent political solution. The two men need to swallow their pride and egos, step aside and use the rescheduling of the leadership contest to September as an opportunity for the party to scout for a new leader.
Such a leader should be unencumbered by loyalty to either Lekota or Shilowa, and should emerge democratically and enjoy the support of both in rebuilding Cope.
l Rapoo is executive director at the Centre for Policy Studies.