NEWS & ANALYSIS

The media's superficial commentary on COPE

Graham McIntosh writes that the breakaway is on track to be the only truly national opposition

In the context of Africa there is the growing emergence of democratic parties that reject the liberation movements' paradigms that were largely rooted in Marxist ideology. The MDC over the Limpopo, Raila Odinga in Kenya, Zambian and Ghanaian political developments and the election a few years ago of Ravalomana in Madagascar come to mind.

In a broad and specific sense COPE clearly stands in this tradition. COPE leaders make it clear that one of the reasons that they have broken with the ANC is because it is following the route of failed liberation movement politics in seeking a "national democratic revolution". They believe South Africa needs a normalised democracy of political parties, not liberation movements. No serious evaluation of COPE in its African context seems to have been made.

COPE's sudden emergence has caught the imagination of South African voters and has thrilled them because they recognise the opportunity to support a party which can change the political fabric in South Africa. This attraction is drawing support from a wide spectrum and not simply former ANC supporters. The DA has its knickers in a knot over COPE because it knows that DA voters as well as voters for other minority parties, will vote for COPE because they believe it can be the real and credible opposition to the ANC which they want.

They also know that COPE will form coalitions so they want to vote for what will be the biggest opposition party. COPE's opposition is the ANC not the DA or the IFP. Both these two important parties are essentially regional parties with core white support for the DA and core Zulu support for the IFP. COPE has a national footprint and has support in every township, rural area and community in South Africa. The analysts haven't commented seriously on this appeal of an opposition to the ANC that operates in every corner of the land.

COPE's emergence through the departure from the ANC of a large, important and significant number of leaders and supporters, is probably the most important political event since Mandela was set free. Bonds of struggle are not easily broken. Robben Island, detention, banning, exile build a shared loyalty. Consider the comradeship amongst men and women who went through the Second World War together. For the COPE leaders who have left the ANC it has been at a huge emotional cost. For many it has also been a financial cost. In life we call that moral courage and commitment to principle. These leaders are experienced and politically savvy. No commentator seems to have probed this fascinating human element.

There are important distinctions of principle and policy. COPE does not allow dual membership. That means that members of the SACP are absent from COPE. Mr Vavi and his trade unions that burn and kill to enforce their strikes, are not welcome in COPE.

COPE draws a clear distinction between a political party, which it says it is, and a liberation movement that has the "national democratic revolution" as its objective. COPE opposes a policy of "deployment of cadres" but wants a professional non-political civil service.

COPE's Manifesto says clearly "A COPE government will represent a party which has, from the outset, considered these values - integrity, honesty and the rule of law, all of which are found in our faiths and religions in their diversity - as the core to its existence. It will therefore be best placed to carry forward these values." The ANC has none of this acknowledgement of religious values in its manifesto. Most commentators gloss over, or simply have not noticed, these critical differences.

The ANC, DA, UDM, ID and IFP knew five years ago that an election would take place around April 2009. COPE will have been in existence for about 125 days when the General Election takes place. One would expect more interest in how, within that incredibly short period, a national political movement has not only emerged but mounted a national election campaign, raised money, established a footprint in every corner of South Africa , submitted lists of candidates and will be present in each and every voting station in our Republic. The only phrase that seems appropriate to describe this achievement is "a political miracle". Africa semper aliquid novi affert (Pliny) - always something new out of Africa .

Nobody has investigated how one sets up a political party in an environment where the ANC is full of dirty-tricks and "moles" and will seek to use any tactic to torpedo COPE. The Communist Manifesto has no chapter on Ethics, after all.  Commentators, however, make comments about COPE as though they have been well-established for years.

A further aspect that has not been addressed is the change in our political forecasting with the arrival of proportional representation. The old analysis so beloved of statisticians of percentage polls, swings in certain constituencies, key indicator constituencies, has all gone out of the window. With modern communications from radio through TV to e-mail and the ubiquitous cell phone, the game has changed dramatically.

Furthermore the voters have grasped that this is an important election and every vote counts. The increase in voter registrations and especially by first-time voters, including the youth, must not be underestimated.  This means that a party like COPE appears to have struck a chord with the voters in a way that was not previously possible. The popular and spontaneous movements in the Ukraine and Georgia and the Czech Republic are the only parallels. The MDC's surprise win on the constitutional referendum in Zimbabwe in 2000 is another. Brutus, in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, says "There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on the fortune." Is COPE riding a tide in South Africa? None of them have addressed the matter of timing and why COPE emerged when it did.

However, nothing succeeds like success, so if COPE does well, political scientists will be falling over themselves to find out why. At the moment they seem simply puzzled and bring themselves no credit in their coverage of COPE. Possibly that is because they are either ANC or DA supporters.

Graham McIntosh is number 20 on COPE's National list and serves on the COPE National Committee. He was first elected to Parliament in 1974.

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