South Africa's newest political party, the Congress of
the People (COPE) insists it will offer a serious challenge to the ruling
African National Congress in elections in a few weeks (April 22). At this
stage, though, it's the ANC's controversial leader, Jacob Zuma, who looks likely
to become the next president of Africa's largest economy. COPE consists of former
ANC members unhappy with Zuma's leadership of the ruling party. COPE initially said
it was targeting 51 percent of the vote, but independent surveys say it stands
to receive only between six and 10 percent.
"Simply put," says COPE's
chief of policy, Smuts Ngonyama, "the surveys are wrong. We are going to
receive far more than six percent…. We are going to surprise a lot of people."
He acknowledged that COPE
faces a "very big challenge" to prevent the ANC, which got 70 percent of votes
cast in the 2004 elections, from gaining a two-thirds majority in parliament.
"But we believe that South
Africans are the…. doctors of the situation in our country. They are the ones
who are going to punish those who seek to undermine our democracy," Ngonyama
Ngonyama is the former head
of former president Thabo Mbeki's office and a close friend. Last year the ANC effectively
dismissed Mbeki after a judge suggested that the former president had
instigated corruption investigations into Zuma.
Ngonyama asserted that
democracy in South Africa could "collapse" if the ANC is afforded another term
in office. Voters, he maintained, would choose COPE because of the "guts" of
the party's officials who had been "brave" enough to leave the ANC and to "tell
the public what is wrong with the ANC, and that we don't want this country to
be another Zimbabwe…."
Top COPE member a convicted fraudster
One of COPE's main
allegations against the ANC is that the ruling party has become inherently
corrupt. Zuma, in particular, is alleged to have received bribes from a French
weapons firm in exchange for favors with regard to an arms deal, and there are
a slew of other graft allegations against top ANC members that opposition
parties say aren't being investigated.
However, one of COPE's
leading members is himself a convicted fraudster.
In 1999, the anti-apartheid
cleric Allan Boesak, who at the time was chairman of the Western Cape branch of
the ANC, was convicted of misappropriating thousands of dollars of donor funds meant
for development in his province.
He was imprisoned in 2000,
but released after having served just over a year of his three-year sentence. In
2005, then president Mbeki issued a full presidential pardon to Boesak, whose
criminal record was duly expunged from the record.
Ngonyama said, "With regards
to the funds that [Boesak] (corruptly) received, those funds were used for the
struggle (against apartheid)."
Ngonyama did, however,
acknowledge that Boesak had not been able to "account in detail" for his use of
the donor funds and that he had thus been found guilty of fraud.
"But the most important thing
is that he was pardoned; those criminal charges were expunged and those charges
are no more on him," Ngonyama added, saying, "That's why we decided to use him;
the law allows us to do that."
Ngonyama further argued that the
corruption case against Zuma was "different" and "more serious" than that of
Boesak, because a judge had jailed the ANC leader's former financial advisor
for making corrupt payments to Zuma – thus directly implicating the likely
future president of South Africa in graft.
"On top of it all," said the
COPE official, "the ANC has gone out of its way to ensure that Jacob Zuma is
never tried in a court of law, unlike Boesak, who has been jailed and now deserves
a second chance."
Ngonyama stressed that although the charges against Zuma had been dismissed, it would make Zuma and the ANC
much, much bigger in the eyes of the public if he stood down and allowed
someone else to run for president" because the "dark cloud hovering over" Zuma
was damaging the integrity of the country.
Nelson Mandela 'abused' and 'humiliated'
According to some analysts,
COPE's hopes of causing an upset at the forthcoming polls were severely damaged
when former president Nelson Mandela recently appeared at a public rally in the
Eastern Cape Province alongside Zuma. They see this as Mandela's endorsement of
Zuma, and a significant boost to the ANC leader's campaign.
COPE members, as well as many
South Africans, were deeply concerned when ANC officials arrived at the elderly
Mandela's home, led him to a helicopter and flew him to appear alongside Zuma
at the political gathering.
Mandela had made it clear
that he had retired from politics and his foundation, which controls his public
affairs, had said beforehand that Mandela was too frail to attend public
A hobbling Mandela had to be
helped on to the podium to be embraced by a beaming Zuma.
Ngonyama described Mandela's
"forced" appearance at the ANC rally as an "act of desperation" by the ruling
party and its candidate.
"(Former president) Mbeki
never went out of his way to go and fetch (former) president Mandela during
elections (to boost his campaign). He fought elections by himself," Ngomyama
He said the sight of a "very,
very ill" Mandela "almost being carried" to appear at Zuma's side had left most
South Africans, who revered the former president, "outraged."
"That's really abuse! Our
position as COPE is that South Africans need to protect Mandela from the ANC!" Ngonyama
exclaimed. "He's our father, he's our leader, he's our icon," he stated. "It
was real humiliation of Nelson Mandela, at a time that he was supposed to be
The ANC, in "dragging" Mandela
to the event to appear with Zuma, had shown that it was "desperate" and "unable
to face the South African public" without the help of Mandela's iconic image,
The ANC maintains that
Mandela chose to be at the rally; Mandela himself has remained silent about the