Monday, February 23, 2009



By Justice Malala
Feb 23, 2009

The new party is squandering the hope it inspired
An antidote to Zuma is not necessarily a Christian priest

THE Congress of the People’s secretary-general, Charlotte Lobe, announced late on Friday afternoon that Mvume Dandala, a former head of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, had been chosen as the face of party’s election campaign.

Immediately afterwards, the members of the organisation’s communications team turned their phones off and could not be reached. So did party leaders and other bigwigs. There was no one to face the television cameras and sing the man’s praises.

All that the press had was a sketchy biography contained in the very short press release and this assertion: “South Africa needs an honest, trustworthy and highly skilled leader, someone who can restore to our people hope and belief in our country. We need a leader we can look up to and respect, a leader who can inspire South Africans to take our nation from being a good one to a great one.

“We need a leader who represents the values that we in Cope espouse: honesty, hard work and family values.”

On Saturday, Mbhazima Shilowa spoke at a Cope rally in Soweto and was at pains to say that he accepts Dandala’s nomination. Meanwhile, party co-founder and president Mosiuoa Lekota was campaigning in the Free State. The new kid on the block, Dandala, was nowhere to be seen. The man’s own party could not present him to the public.

Even a wet-behind-the-ears political strategist could have advised Cope that unveiling a new leader — particularly one familiar only to parts of the middle classes and to the Methodist Church faithful, and not to the rest of the country — should have been done with proper fanfare. It should have been a co-ordinated, well thought-out process.

The party’s actions over the past two weeks have been shambolic and amateurish to say the least.

To add to the shambles, the party’s leaders are now at loggerheads about the bishop’s nomination. Allegations of tribalism and lack of consultation fly thick and fast. The party that was supposed to be about renewal and a break with the past is now publicly and damagingly dealing with the same problems its leaders faced in the ANC.

With the election exactly two months away, this sort of lack of organisation and unity is fatal. Cope is squandering its opportunity and the hope engendered by its formation.

But there is something even more confusing to me. Political analysts and others have been lauding the nomination of Dandala as a coup for Cope .

“For the first time, the real prospect of a credible challenge to the ANC has arisen with the selection of Dandala as Cope ’s face,” said columnist and public intellectual Xolela Mangcu in the Weekender on Saturday.

The Human Sciences Research Council’s Mcebisi Ndletyana said the appointment was a “master stroke”. President Kgalema Motlanthe said the nomination added “oomph” to the election race.

I am sorry, but all I can hear is the “pfffttt” of the gas running out of Cope. Firstly, the man has absolutely no profile among the masses of South Africa.

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.

Someone like Mbhazima Shilowa, with the momentum already built up over the past five months, would have been a far more sensible choice. However, both the party’s election list convener, Barney Pityana, and its leadership made the fatal mistake of thinking that, to beat the ANC’s Jacob Zuma, they needed a man of the cloth to amplify the contrasts.

This is a huge mistake. Dandala has no profile, no political experience of any worth and it is doubtful that his religious background is really a draw-card. For many people, an antidote to ANC president Jacob Zuma is not necessarily a Christian priest. An antidote would be someone who can promise — and deliver — on the key issues of jobs, health, education and housing.

On all these issues, Dandala is a total lightweight. Even if he were not, there is just no time to familiaris e the South African electorate with his grasp of the issues or his alleged genius.

It is therefore a fallacy to think that this man will draw the crowds to Cope . In fact, many would argue that he offers a very flimsy alternative to the current crop of presidential nominees on offer. He is the liberal Christian’s Kenneth Meshoe.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Cope is deeply lacking in political strategy —and Dandala certainly does nothing to compensate for that . As priest after priest ascends to the top — from Pityana himself to Allan Boesak and Dandala — one has to ask again: “Is there any substance to Cope except fear of Zuma?”