The ANC's Secret COPE Sympathisers

By Saliem Fakir · 6 Jan 2009

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The ANC is no longer sure of who is friend or foe. Some of its traditional members and ardent supporters are quietly vying for the Congress of the People (COPE) while pretending to be all for the ANC in public. Come the day of the secret ballot, they will have already turned.

Some have already made the leap. Others are waiting for when the time is right to join COPE more openly. And, yet others simply have a genuine concern about South African democracy and its future and will vote for COPE to weaken the dominance of the ANC.

There couldn’t be anything more disorientating for the ANC than not knowing who is in and who is out – whose their closet COPE supporter. This goes for both its top eschelon, the National Executive Committee, ordinary ANC card-carrying members and their loyal voters.

Nothing is certain anymore for the ANC and this will impact on its messaging and campaign. Too much has been undone to stem the momentum of change that is already proving to be a historical juncture in ANC history.

The reasons for such quietism and willingness to go COPE’s way vary.

Some of it has to do with the mishandling of the post-Polokwane fall-out, the rise of Stalinist leftist, some point to the antics of Julius Malema, the loss of position and influence of those who are of the Mbeki camp, the triumphalism and arrogance of the ANC, and many other minor and major misdemeanours that have led to one failure and disappointment after another. 

Despite the fact that leading figures within COPE are not free of one or other blemish, ala Peter Marais, Allan Boesak and a few other characters also part of the new mix; COPE’s presence is seen has having come at a strategic watershed in South Africa’s history.

The thing with blemishes and politics, is that in politics, memories are short, principles have limited usefulness and expediency is the rave.

That’s why the past history of COPE’s leaders mean less given the watershed moment  that is on offer and the potential it has to change South African politics forever.

Good opportunities rarely come twice and rarely does one opportunity mean so many things for so many interests.

This may partially explain COPE’s unashamed expedient gathering of whoever it can, to be as strong a contender as possible against the ANC in the next election.

The surfacing of the new ANC group has undoubtedly opened new spaces and vistas for what many are thinking is a resurgence of politics and democracy in South Africa.

ANC card-carrying members have also seized upon this moment of change and some will be voting COPE’s way out of tactic rather than principle.

It is this momentum of change that is on the horizon that many do not want to see as something fleeting but permanent. It is for this reason that the next elections won’t be just about principles, but also where many ANC members will cast their votes so as to entrench change in the hope that it will bring about a better democratic future.

Good thinking citizens recognise that too much power in the hands of one-party in itself can pose more risks than opportunities. By strengthening COPE they hope to change the ANC too. They hope to open the landscape for vibrant politics and debate for a long-long time to come.

But what has also played into this calculation of high risk politics is the perception that the ANC is under the undue influence of a new platoon and brand of leadership that is willing to obliterate everything that has come before it. Anything that has been tagged ‘Mbeki’ has to be purged.

There is an uncomfortable marriage between sense and senselessness within the ANC.

Those who will vote tactically for COPE fear that if the ANC gets a two-thirds majority the Stalinist within the ANC will gain an upper-hand making the inner and outer revolution more bloody than it currently is.

They at least hope that by voting for COPE they will strengthen the hands of those leaders within the ANC that offer reasonableness and where the future prospects for the ‘revolutionaries’ will wither.

It is simply the case, for them, of staying ANC but voting COPE, as ironic as it may seem. This is how they hope to bring back the fight within the ANC.

The ANC hasn’t been pretty good in its public relations despite roping in the likes of Carl Niehaus and Jesse Duarte – who are suppose to be uber spin-doctors.

They come across as fumbling, pompous and given the invidious task of having to explain away contradictions every-time one of the ANC’s lose canons’s go on a limp.

The ANC has such excess baggage, following the Polokwane victory for Zuma, that has become a public relations nightmare.

The truth is that the ANC’s policies seem incoherent, desperate and internal rivalries are far more rive than the ANC is letting us believe.

The latest episode involving our care-taker President, Kgalema Motlanthe, just underscores the point. Motlanthe has hardly sat long on the Presidential hot-seat and it seems that the knives are already out for him.

Even if you wanted to give the ANC a helping hand you wouldn’t be sure if would be of any worth because you would have to box yourself in with one or the other camp.

There are many secret COPE sympathisers lurking within the ANC. Card-carrying members who want to seize the political moment out of a genuine believe that it will make the ANC a better organization.

Who want to entrench change and believe, despite COPE’s blemishes and given that it has no track record other than the mix-bag of good and bad track records of its leaders, that voting tactically will make change happen.

They will want to vote for democracy and diversity. They want to do the ANC a favour.  Let us hope they are correct.

Let us also remember that democracy without justice and equality is an empty democracy.

Fakir is an independent writer based in Cape Town.

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