South Africa politics


Cope, the preferred party of non-ANC black voters in the April 2009 elections, could split amid an intensifying power struggle between two founder members. The official opposition could benefit.

The Congress of the People (Cope), the party formed in 2008 by members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) that were opposed to the ascendancy of Jacob Zuma, appears to be on the verge of disintegrating. The battle for influence between the party’s two main founding members, Mosiuoa Lekota (president) and Mbhazima Shilowa (vice-president), has been apparent since Cope’s foundation, but intensified at a May party congress during which the Shilowa faction engineered a vote of no-confidence in Mr Lekota and named Mr Shilowa as acting interim president pending elections.

Mr Lekota rejected this because, in the run-up to the congress, the party’s national committee had decided that leadership elections would not be held. With both men claiming to be the legitimate party leader, Mr Lekota turned to the High Court and, on June 7th, won temporary reprieve when a judge overturned the no-confidence motion and reinstated Mr Lekota as leader pending elections. However, despite Mr Lekota’s fresh call for unity, the divisions between the two men are too deep to be easily resolved, and it is entirely possible that the party will split when an elective congress does finally takes place.

Cope took 7.4% of the vote in the April 2009 election, becoming the preferred party of non-ANC black voters. A split in the grouping could therefore help the Democratic Alliance (DA), the official opposition, especially as the party is now showing that it may be able to win support from black voters (alongside its core of white and mixed-race voters). The party has secured municipal by-election wins in the Western Cape, where the DA forms the provincial government, and in late May the DA captured two black dominated seats from the ANC–Gugulethu-Heideveld (where it won 60% of the votes, up from 26% in 2006) and Grabouw (where it captured 48%, up from 10% in 2006). Alongside other by-election wins over the past year, the DA is building momentum in the run-up to nationwide municipal elections in 2011. By-election voting patterns are not necessarily repeated when it comes to national elections, of course, but it seems that voters will increasingly be drawn to parties that can deliver much-needed services, and that blind allegiance to the ANC is faltering, at the municipal level at least.

Thus the municipal polls will test the standing of Jacob Zuma–by then two years into his five-year presidential term–the ANC, and its tripartite alliance with the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). The signs are that Mr Zuma will find it increasingly difficult to maintain the cohesion of the tripartite alliance because of growing divisions between its members. Mr Zuma’s backing for economic policy continuity and for centrists such as the finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, will continue to anger the left, especially Cosatu, and this could spark fresh strikes.

At the same time, Mr Zuma faces bitter divisions between the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) and the SACP, which could escalate. The ANCYL backs left-style policies–such as nationalisation–but is deeply opposed to the SACP and its influence on the ANC, and is best described as “nationalist” (or even right-wing). The faction aims to oust key communists from the ANC leadership at the party’s 2012 conference, in preparation for the 2014 presidential poll. However, the controversial ANCYL leader, Julius Malema, suffered a setback in May when he was fined, ordered to apologise and placed on probation by an ANC disciplinary panel for sowing disunity in the party, as part of a plea bargain that saw three other charges dropped. The action against Mr Malema has bolstered the president’s authority, but the fault lines in the party will remain.