The Sunday Times this week published a scathing attack on Helen Zille and the Democratic Alliance by Guy Willoughby. In the article - headed "Zille can't grill others on cronyism" - the writer took issue with Zille's characterisation of COPE as "a ‘closed patronage party' whose candidate lists are chosen by a small group of insiders" and the DA as "an ‘open opportunity party' operating openly and expanding opportunities for those with merit" (see article.)
Zille and the DA are as guilty of cronyism, Willoughby claims, as "anyone else." The DA leader is thus guilty of "speaking with a forked tongue", "hypocrisy", and of "damning rivals with her own party's sins."
Willoughby complains that "all key appointments" within the party are made by a "small cabal" which is "largely, white, male, Anglo, Capetonian, and old-school-tie middle class." The authority with which he speaks - such as it is - comes from the fact that he worked as a speechwriter first for Tony Leon and then Zille between August 2006 and July 2008 (when his contract came to an end and was not renewed.)
Willoughby writes: "In fact, from my two-year experience with [Zille] and Leon in the national leader's office, I would say she, by contrast with her predecessor, runs the party with a kind of benign neglect. Little has changed. In fact, things are worse because at least Leon kept the cabal to heal. Nowadays, it is running rampant."
Exhibit no 1 for the malign influence of this cabal was the election to a high position on the DA's KwaZulu Natal national assembly list of the relatively young DA spokeswoman, Lindiwe Mazibuko. Clearly, cronyism led to her preferment over much more meritorious candidates such as ... well.... a certain white, male, Anglo, Capetonian, old-school-tie middle class, former party speechwriter. It seems that one Guy Willoughby - yes, it is he - applied last year to join the selection process for DA public representatives.
"I believe I fit the bill as a future MP admirably", Willoughby wrote in his motivation, "after all, for the past two years, I have been articulating party philosophy, strategy and topical positions on the widest possible series of subjects, as Speechwriter for the Leader--first Tony Leon (August 2006-May 2007) and subsequently Helen Zille (May 2007-July 2008). In both cases I enjoyed excellent relations with both of these strong personalities; in fact, Helen expressly asked me to stay on as Speechwriter when she announced her candidacy for the national Leadership early in 2007, and I count it a real privilege to have been able to work closely with her over an action-packed period."
"The Speechwriting position" he continued, "brought together on one platform my range of experience as historian, journalist, public speaker and theatre practitioner. This experience has honed my knowledge and my enthusiasm for the DA's policies and the vision of the Open Opportunity Society."
Apart from being a "team player" among the many cogent reasons why Willoughby thought he would make "a first-rate MP" was that "my public reputation for humour, wit, brains and honesty would be an asset to the DA caucus. Accordingly, I wish to make myself available to serve the DA at a critical juncture in our democracy as a public representative. I would ideally like to serve at Parliamentary level but I would be happy to consider the position of an MPL as well."
It is quite clear from this text that Willoughby would, according to his own estimation, have made an excellent candidate for parliament. For the DA to not even shortlist such a person (not even as an MPL!) is a clear indictment of the ‘closed cronyism' of their selection procedures. It was no doubt out of an uncommon sense of modesty - and a magnanimous desire to forgive and forget - that Willoughby chose to make no mention of this historic injustice when he penned his article.
COPE's last card
If you think Willoughby has been hard done by, spare a thought for Terror Lekota the President of COPE. He was sort-of elected party leader at COPE's inaugural conference in Bloemfontein in December last year. And he undoubtedly had a legitimate expectation that he would be the face of the party's campaign for the 2009 poll. However, it seems that neither Lekota nor his deputy, Mbhazima Shilowa, think the other is fit to govern. And so the party's congress national committee (CNC) decided that COPE's presidential candidate for the 2009 poll should be neither. The former head of the Methodist Church of South Africa, Bishop Mvume Dandala, was chosen instead. Dandala was, incidentally, a protégé from Fort Hare of the head of COPE's candidate selection committee, Dr Barney Pityana.
City Press reported on Sunday that Lekota "who said two weeks ago on TV that he was the face of the party and there were no debates about it, is now in an uncomfortable corner. He was caught off-guard, telling the SABC on Friday he knew nothing of Dandala's selection as the face of the party shortly before the party's secretary-general, Charlotte Lobe, confirmed Dandala's elevation."
The wisdom of choosing such a relative unknown to front an election campaign is open to question. As Justice Malala noted in his column in The Times on Monday: "It is well nigh impossible for a divided, cash-strapped and shambolic Cope media machine to get the man out into the hustings. There are less than eight weekends left for electioneering and Cope has not even been able to print, let alone put up, election posters."
The strategic thinking behind the decision appears to be that this choice would turn the election into a study in moral contrasts: One the hand this man of the cloth, on the other Jacob Zuma. However, one wonders whether this is really an effort to seize the moral high ground, or whether there is a more subtle calculation at work.
COPE is internally divided, organisationally weak and, it seems, underfunded. The one card it can still play - and perhaps has already played - is to dish the dirt (real or just rumoured) on ANC leaders. Yet, this is not all that easily done. One problem is that the ANC has similar knowledge about the Mbeki-ites now in COPE. Another is that COPE can't do it directly and openly. A third is that there is always the risk of collateral damage. For instance, the Carl Niehaus story was disastrous for the ANC but it was not unequivocally good for the breakaway. Shilowa was premier of Gauteng when Niehaus was thrown out of GEDA for fraud, and had to answer hard questions about the failure of his administration to press criminal charges at the time.
The choice of Dandala would solve two of these dilemmas. Since he is not of the ANC the other side is unlikely to have much dirt on him - and as a former Methodist Bishop there is not going to be much anyway. COPE operatives can now leak information into the public domain without having to worry, too much, about ANC counter attacks on, or the risk of collateral damage to, their own candidate. If such idle speculation is correct then one can expect the upcoming election campaign to be very dirty indeed.
Click here to sign up for our free daily headline newsletter