COPE YM's critique of COPE

Youth Movement paper calling for dissolution of CNC, January 11 2010

COPE in 2010: The Youth Perspective

A paper by the COPE Youth Movement about the future of COPE in 2010 to be debated amongst its structures and tabled at the first Congress National Committee meeting of COPE

January 11 2010

[1] Introduction

2010 is a turning point for COPE. It is a year that COPE has to consolidate its gains after a full year of establishing itself as a new force for change in the politics of our country. It is important that as we prepare for this year we understand that the context is not in favor of COPE in the public arena. COPE needs to honestly acknowledge that a lot of momentum has been lost. COPE is perceived correctly for having lost focus on its original reason for existence. An honest assessment of our first year of existence is therefore crucial in determining the solutions that must be put in place for the building of an alternative to the ruling party.  

In this paper the COPE youth Movement takes a brief look at the founding year of COPE as well proposed urgent interventions that must happen in order to propel COPE forward in 2010 and regain the momentum that saw COPE win 1, 3 million votes in the General Election of 2009.

[2] 2009 observations and lessons: a brief assessment of the founding year of COPE.

Without dwelling too much in the past we need to use the following four pillars to take stock of where we are as an organization after one year of existence:  (2.1) Progress towards the implementation of the Bloemfontein Resolutions, (2.2) The question of visionary leadership (2.3) The question of poor administration and dysfunctional at the center (2.4) As well as the question of our effectiveness as opposition party in parliament.   

2.1 The Implementation of the Bloemfontein Resolutions: work in progress.

Bloemfontein inaugural congress of COPE held in 2008 passed as set of 16 resolutions that pronounce on a range of substantial policy matters as well as organizational goals. A detailed analysis of how each of these resolutions has been implemented still needs to be done for purposes of preparation for the next congress. The weaknesses and strengths highlighted below therefore refer to the overall spirit of the inaugural congress and the mandate it gave to the CNC to build the organization and take us to the elective congress.   


The key weaknesses of COPE in its inaugural year can be characterized as follows:

  • A dysfunctional political and administrative organizational structure.
  • No substantial and coordinated programme of action.
  • No coherent campaigns that COPE's mission into visible public actions.
  • No CNC subcommittee work is visible. 
  • Minimal branches have been set up - this is due to the late release of the guidelines as well as an absent national drive for this work.
  • There seems to be no sense of urgency in developing the constitution of COPE. The subcommittees of the CNC are dysfunctional which makes it difficult for the organization to be coherent.


  • There is notable functionality at the level of provincial structures of COPE.
  • Guide document for the establishment of organizational structures has been released.

2.2 The question of visionary leadership and the blind contest for power: the COPE downfall

  • Most of COPE's coverage in the press was about leadership squabbles.
  • The CNC meetings were also dominated by this apparent tug of war between the leaders
  • This removed focus from the development and implementation of COPE's programme of action.
  • This fueled factionalism that replicates itself in the provinces and structures much to the detriment of COPE. This must stop. It can only be stopped by an elective conference.
  • National leadership has failed to present itself as a united force and therefore failed to unite the organization on the ground.
  • The feeling that the parliamentary leadership is not united and does not have support and direction from the party making it impossible for COPE to be an effective opposition in parliament. 
  • Policy positions are poorly articulated and that the policy debate has not commenced in earnest. Structures have been waiting for draft policy documents so that these can be engaged with to no avail.
  • The absence of a policy department meant to steer this process means that policy drafts are going to inevitably be a ‘one man show'.  COPE must avoid the current development of ‘policy on the go' such as how the issue of labour brokers was introduced as a COPE policy in the public arena.
  • The organization must move away from warming up to the DA as this has never been a policy or party position or debated in the organization. This is a programme or ‘policy on the go'

2.3 The Centre that is not holding: the organization and the absent landlord

A number of people have pointed out the weakness of the COPE administration in its founding year. There have also been problems in terms of the focus of officials on being COPE office bearers and MPs at the same time. A situation has now arisen of ‘an absentee land lord' where virtually no work is executed from head office as the centre but officials scattered all over the country. The following issues require reflection:

  • Our head office is non-existent. While the administrative buck stops with the General Secretary the entire leadership is to blame for this situation.
  • The politicization of administrative functions such as the appointment of professional staff has stifled administration of COPE at the centre.
  • This politicization of administrative functions has led to a head office that does not appoint professional people like researchers, people with necessary capabilities and technical skills to enrich our work as an organization under political heads of department.
  • COPE has not prioritized the development of official campaigns rendering it virtually irrelevant in the public space.
  • The placement of key organizational office bearers like the head of communications, organizing, policy and treasury in parliament is at the heart of the absence of a functioning head office. If the record is anything to go by. A radical departure from this arrangement must be considered urgent
  • Full time office bearers must occupy their place at head office and treat it as the only centre of operations.
  • The head of communication must deal with the planning and formulation of a communication strategy
  • The General Secretary deals with the articulation of policies and programs of the organisation; therefore there is a need for a National Spokesperson who is directly located in the office of the General Secretary.
  • The absence of an elections head and an elections team is the major cause of COPE's dismal performance in the by-elections and its unpreparedness for the upcoming local government elections of 2011. 
  • The poor use of professionals if at all, by political heads to enrich their work has resulted in an inefficient running of functions such as the treasury, administration, policy, communications and organizing.  

2.3 The weak sectors of youth, women, students and professionals and failure to mobilize minorities: A foundation missing

The sectors are an important part of mobilizing support for COPE and mobilizing society around issues that affect these sectors. The following assessment must be noted:

  • The sectoral organizations have also had their own challenges as a result they have not made much impact in COPE and broader society.
  •  The Youth have not set the agenda of youth discourse in the country nor influenced COPE's agenda 
  • Young people remain demobilized and uninvolved.
  • Structures of COPE especially the youth movement have not done enough to support the establishment of the COPE Student Movement on South African campuses.
  • There is no clarity on the relationship between COPE student movement and other COPE structures. 
  • There is an absence of a coherent programme of action for COPE women.  
  • The women movement has not stood up on national debates affecting women.
  • All sectors should by now have produced an alternative programme for the failing new ministry of women and youth and the disabled.
  • COPE has failed to mobilize professionals to bolster its own operations and advance intellectual debates in the public sphere.
  • The professionals have also not been organized at all to make considered input in the life of the organization. The COPE College launched with much fanfare ahead of the elections has not made any impact on the life of COPE.

2.4 The stale mate of leadership in parliament and the resultant poor showing as opposition force:  

COPE received 7.4 percent of the national vote in the 22 April elections. It is also the official opposition in 5 provinces. Given the poor state of COPE resource base financially this is the best platform to launch COPE programme to be an alternative to the ruling party. The following however is cause for concern about how COPE has gone about maximizing this opportunity:   

  • The lack of clarity between the role of the COPE Parliamentary leader and the Chief Whip is causing needless paralysis in parliament. This matter can no longer be ignored.
  • There is poor technical support for Members of Parliament in areas of their portfolios. 
  • The CNC has not made adequate time to discuss strategic issues in order to guide all COPE public representatives about their work in the national assembly, The National Council of Provinces as well as the various provincial legislatures.  
  • The CNC has also not received any financial report from Parliament to date.
  • The whippery is virtually dysfunctional and does not meet regularly as a result parliament does not have a business plan. This frustrates people on the ground that relies on this administration support to set up and run constituency offices for example.
  • To date no researchers have been hired to support the work of parliamentarians.
  • There is no standardized staffing policy across the legislatures resulting in glaring disparities in the conditions of employment.
  • We must commend the team for the work done under these circumstances but call for an urgent capacity building for all COPE Mps without delay.  
  • We have not engaged our MPs on issues of youth in parliament and provincial legislatures.
  • COPE has not revealed any alternative legislative programme for both the national assembly and all the provinces that can challenge the ruling party. 
  • We commend the caucus for the Campaign for Affordable and Sustainable Energy (CASE) to be launched in January 2010.  

[3] Way Forward.

1. On Leadership

COPE must call an early elective conference and elect a democratic leadership without delay

The COPE Youth Movement will therefore call for the following:

The immediate dissolution of the current Congress National Committee. This should be followed by appointment of the Secretary's forum as a ‘Congress Preparatory Committee'

Given the absence of a programme of action and the dsyfunctionality of the CNC the COPE youth movement declares that it no longer has confidence in the current CNC and calls for its immediate dissolution in favour of a Congress Preparatory Committee.  The sole mandate of such a committee will be to oversee the preparations for the elective and policy conference.   

The policy and early elective conferences must be combined.

There are no resources to hold two conferences. Combining the conferences will make sense and will save time and money. COPE Youth Movement hereby proposes that a joint, early elective and policy conference be held.

Proposed date of the joint conference

COPE Youth Movement proposes that the elective and policy conference be held from the 28th -to   31st May 2010.

Proposed structures for congress preparation

  • Congress Preparatory Committee will be made by the all Provincial Secretaries. The Congress Preparatory Committee will elect amongst itself the Convener and the Coordinator
  • This team must meet regularly to plan and guide all preparations for the joint conference
  • It can be further divided into a policy subcommittee that would steer policy consultation across the provinces and branches as well as congress subcommittee that would oversee the elections process,
  • It will support the Electoral College/ commission and handle accreditation and logistics for the conference.  
  • It must also raise money for the conference.
  • Nominations must be opened by 1 March and close by 31 March 20009. This will ensure that the focus is limited to that month and does not disrupt the COPE campaigns.

2. On policy

In order to create a climate of debate as well as proper preparation policy debate and consolidation culminating in a conference COPE youth movement proposed the following:

  • Policy documents must be released immediately to all structures of COPE.
  • Provincial and sector workshops must be held without delay all provinces must hold policy workshops by 31 March 2009. 
  • A formal public platform must be established in all provinces and by all structures to encourage open debate on COPE policies by both members and supporters.
  • A call for different papers on policy matters must also be called for and commissioned where necessary to enrich the debates ahead of the conference.
  • COPE Youth Movement supports open policy discourse as part of the originally envisaged campaign of ‘the festival of ideas' that never took off. We will oppose any attempts to stifle debates in COPE especially at this early stage of our existence. We call on all structures to create the space for meaningful and robust debates to take place at all levels of the organization.  

3. On Campaigns

In order to focus the minds of South Africans about what COPE stands for and what it can deliver to the population there is a need for constant campaigns that should be rolled out daily. The COPE Youth Movement intends to lead by example in this regard by launching the Thuma Mina Campaign. 

Youth Campaign: Thuma Mina: Some pointers.

The following can characterize some of the activities to be done in implementing such a campaign:

  • Release a paper on the new education system. 
  • Visit schools at the beginning of the year and mobilize
  • Start one Saturday school in each province and staff it with COPE members.
  • Organize career fair in all provinces in June month before world cup.
  • Make an input into the work that government is doing to improve this year's Matric results.

Similarly we believe that COPE needs to also identify an area that it can be identified with by the general population. To this end we proposed that COPE launches "The Stop hunger campaign" that would focus the country on the issues of poverty and food security of our citizens.

Overall COPE campaign: Defeating poverty with the people - "The stop hunger campaign."

The following activities can be considered under such a campaign to make it effective:

  • Families to be encouraged to adopt a street kid for their well being and education.
  • Professionals adopt a student for a bursary. COPE can link needy students with willing professionals both inside and outside COPE.
  • COPE must design a programme that can aid small businesses that seek to establish themselves. This can be done through constituency offices of COPE setting up business advice centres.
  • Tender complaints and corruption hotline must be established as part of COPE's drive to preserve public resources for the poor.
  • COPE must actively expose officials who steal money from the public purse consistently and insist that these cases reach court for justice to be done.
  • COPE must mobilize people to help communities to develop vegetable gardens
  • Investigate farms that are not being utilized in the government's farm acquisition/ land redistribution progammes.
  • Encourage COPE branches to run soup kitchens and care for the disabled in care centres and hospices in their voting districts.
  • Investigate primary school feeding schemes and ensure that where they don't function properly this is taken up with relevant the local or provincial authority.  

4. On parliament

There is an urgent need to intervene to resolve the issues that we identified as challenges in parliament. The COPE Youth Movement proposes the following actions for COPE in parliament:

  • Roll out capacity building for all MPs in parliament immediately.
  • The national leadership of COPE must convene an urgent session to discuss our strategy in parliament, our constituency work strategy as well as our local government elections strategy.
  • Formalize the employment of all staff. 
  • All MPs must appoint advisory support teams of professionals around them by the end of February. This must happened urgently and a report given to the National Leadership.
  • The COPE leadership must give parliament policy direction and the space to execute same. Our poor performance in parliament is evidence of an organisation that does not give policy direction and support in our representatives in institutions of governance
  •  There must be a formal report from parliament in every formal meeting of the party.     

5. On building branches.

A lot has been said about the building of branches in COPE. According to a report tabled at the CWC in November 2009 only about 10 percent of branches were formed by the end of 2009. COPE Youth Movement believes that urgent attention needs to be paid to this matter as follows:

  • The cut off for branches that must be ready for conference must be 21st of March 2009.
  • Credentials to be approved by the Congress Preparatory Committee in the first week of April to avoid last minute disputes.
  • Programme guide for new branches must be produced to ensure that braches remain motivated and deal with issues facing their communities. 

6. Preparations for Local Government Elections

The following proposals are tabled for our preparations for 2011 and 2014 elections

  • Appointment on urgent commission to develop a strategy for the elections and establish an immediate war room for the elections campaign which must be led by the Head of Elections.
  • Appointment of an electoral college to guide the process of electing our representatives to local government elections.

7. A volunteer management strategy for COPE

Given the numerous complaints by volunteers who have not been utilized effectively by COPE the COPE Youth Movement will establish its own volunteer management strategy that will channel youth volunteers to various aspects of the life of COPE. We however believe that COPE must establish a volunteer office under the department of organizing as a matter of urgency.    

8. An emergency CNC to be called

COPE Youth Movement hereby calls for an emergency CNC meeting before the end of January 2010 to deliberate on the state of the organization by dealing with the proposals contained in this document

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