South Africa's opposition Congress of the People (COPE) says it is ready to pose a significant challenge to the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in the April 22 general election. COPE says it has all of its structures in place to double its efforts towards ensuring the ruling party loses its two-thirds majority in parliament. In announcing the April 22 date for the vote, President Kgalema Motlanthe set the stage for the public to test the popularity of both the ruling ANC and the opposition COPE. COPE, which broke away from the ANC, consists largely of former President Thabo Mbeki loyalists and is widely seen as a potential threat to the ruling party. COPE spokesman Philip Dexter tells reporter Peter Clottey that the party is anxious as ever to battle the ANC in the upcoming election.
"We are ready. We've been ready for a while, and we are very excited and pleased that the date has been announced and now the serious campaigning can start," Dexter said.
He dismissed as baseless the assessment of some political analysts that COPE might not have the potential significantly to undermine the support base of the ANC.
"Well, they have the right to their opinion of course, but we know we are ready. We know we've got the support, and we know we've got the structures on the ground. So we are quite confident that not only will we win this election but also win with a sizable majority," he said.
Dexter said COPE would ensure transparency in government, which he said would address the suffering of the masses.
"We are very committed to ensuring that there is clean government and that we run the government efficiently. We intend to uphold the constitution, which the current government intends undermining it. Secondly, we intend to change the electoral system so that people can directly elect their representative where at the moment they are elected on party lists. So in the future, we would want to directly elect our president, our mayors and the leaders of our provincial government," Dexter pointed out.
He said once COPE is victorious in the election, it would focus on seriously combating the crime rate in the country.
"We've got a strong emphasis on crime. The current government has done away with the elite crime fighting unit, the Scorpions or the (DSO) the Directorate of Special Operations. We intend to reinstate it and also to use the system they have used to successfully challenge corruption and we intend to use that to fight other serious crimes in our society," he said.
Dexter claims COPE has a better understanding of how to best manage South Africa's economy than the ruling party.
"In terms of the economic policy, we are quite confident that we've got the right focus on enterprise development and ensuring that those sectors of the economy where we can get growth and create jobs are prioritized and make sure that they become a leading part of the economy. For example, the agricultural sector, the service sector, and all things that are being neglected up until now," Dexter noted.
He said his party would do away with what most people in South Africa describe as a job for the boys, a situation whereby only one's political allegiance gets people jobs instead of their competence.
"At the public services at the moment, these are highly politicized. The people are appointed to work in these various government departments and state institutions. They are appointed there because of their political relationship to the ruling party and not because of their capacity, and we intend to change that. So that we appoint people who are professional and who can get the job, then and in that way, we think we can significantly improve service delivery. So those are the key areas we are different from the ANC," he said.
Dexter said COPE is in South Africa not only to stay, but to become the biggest party in the future.
"We know already from opinion poll the ANC will not get two thirds and is in danger of losing its majority and that is what we are busy trying to fight. We want to be the majority party and our intention is to win the most votes and to be the largest political party," Dexter noted.
The elections will call about 22 million voters to cast ballots for the National Assembly as well as provincial legislatures. Parliamentarians will then choose the president, who is widely expected to be ANC president Jacob Zuma, whose party has ruled South Africa since the end of the white-minority apartheid government in 1994.
Some political analysts believe COPE is aiming to chip away at the ANC's super-majority by tapping into support from the small but growing black middle class, which benefited from Mbeki pro-business policies.