Cope has let down 1,3m who backed it

THE internal strife within the Copee will undermine the party's ability to become a decent opposition in Parliament.

The question to be asked is: in whose interest this internal strife has been.

The unfortunate development is that Parliament, the institution that is supposed to be the repository of public interest and democracy, has now been drawn into the eye of Cope's political storm.

It is really unfortunate that with the war now being fought using Parliament, Cope has destroyed its only chance of making a difference in people's lives by protecting its voice in the gathering of the people's representatives.

What should have come to mind to whoever has felt aggrieved by whatever situation are the 1,3million South Africans who voted for Cope in last year's general election.

Internal strife is not unique to Cope. Throughout the history of Parliament since the advent of democracy, parties have fought internal battles that detract from the dignity of the institution.

The UDM, for example, had serious challenges but has never seen any of its members act to embarrass each other in Parliament.

The PAC had issues with Motsoko Pheko but their battle was fought in court and they accepted that they could not interfere with Parliament - they sought to withdraw him only after he lost the battle of leadership within their party.

What prompts Cope members to act in a manner that misuses Parliament?

How does this measure up to the party's pronouncements about the respect for institutions of our democracy?

The issue is no longer about who stays or who leaves in the event an elective congress is held and either the candidate fighting to retain his presidency gets re-elected, or the deputy president takes over.

It's more about what happens to the MPs as they have to carry out their daily tasks in portfolio committees where they have faced the wrath of ruling party chairpersons - who are bent on rendering Cope politically useless by any means possible.

How are they going to be able to debate in the chamber and make a meaningful contribution when the centre that gives them a mandate is in such disarray? The state of dysfunctionality into which Cope has plunged over the past four weeks is a serious indictment of a party that is the third biggest in the national assembly. The electorate has been let down.

Unfortunately, the imminent departure of Mvume Dandala as a parliamentary leader will not make things better regardless of who his replacement might be.

The damage has been done and it is difficult to understand how replacing a parliamentary leader when the centre does not hold will make things any better.

The issue of the building of an alternative policy paradigm has not been taken seriously by Cope - the current leadership has not bothered to be involved in shaping the policy direction that its MPs must follow to ensure that they can live up to the expectations of their supporters.

All that the electorate is exposed to is the battle for power, instead of the desire to serve the people through presenting alternative policy positions and holding the ruling party accountable.

This year there was a vast improvement during the budget debates on the quality of papers presented by Cope MPs. All that has been lost at the stroke of a pen by someone who didn't apply his mind when he used Parliament as a war zone.

Researchers have been hard at work to boost the morale of MPs and also to make a mark. But none of this can be attributed to the role that Cope as a party has played in ensuring that its members are able to effectively articulate its policies.

As part of Cope's leadership, it behoves us all to admit that it would have been better if the energy we devote to debasing each other should be used to contest the kind of political space that would make Cope a better alternative to the ANC in Parliament and across all the legislatures where we are the official opposition.

The 30 seats we got from the 2009 elections will remain just that, never to be attained again as we erode our support base and send those voters who did not vote for years back to their armchairs for many more years to come.

The question remains: Are we doing our supporters justice by involving Parliament in our party's internal matters?

What can possibly justify the actions that have turned Parliament into an arbitrator of our internal squabbles?

We must get off our high horses and acknowledge the failure on our part as leaders. Unless that happens fast, it is going to be difficult for Cope to find a way forward in Parliament.

l·Lorraine Mashiane is a Cope central national convention member and Cope administrative whip in Parliament. She writes in her personal capacity.