Lekota to quit as Cope leader after elections, says party still relevant (2024)

Congress of the People (Cope) leader Mosiuoa Lekota has been at the helm of the party since its inception in 2008 and now, at the age of 75, will be bowing out.

Speaking to Daily Maverick on Tuesday, Lekota said the party would need to hold a leadership elective conference, since his term in office has expired.

While he appears first on the party’s parliamentary list, he says that once the leadership is elected he will resign to make way for a new leader.

“I have already stood for two terms and what is outstanding now is that we call a congress and then the members must elect another leader. I will not resign from the party, nothing says I should. I will remain a member of the party and if they ask me to address a meeting of the party, I will do so. Maybe they will ask me to recruit members for the Cope. I will do so,” he said.

Although Lekota has been at the helm of the party from the start, heclaims to have served only two terms which he says is the maximum number of years a member can be at the helm.

It is not yet clear who could take over as leader, although Teboho Loate appears second on the party’s 2024 parliamentary list. He is Cope’s national chairperson and an MP working alongside Lekota.

Declining support

Cope was a breakaway party from the ANC formed by Lekota, former Gauteng premier Mbazima Shilowa and late former defence minister Mluleki George following the resignation of former president Thabo Mbeki. This was prompted by Jacob Zuma’s election as party president at the ANC’s national conference in 2007.

Mbeki’s resignation was a source of contention in the liberation party, which led to the formation of Cope by members who were disgruntled and opposed to Zuma as the new party leader.

The formation began well as it managed 7.42% support at the national polls in 2009, which declined to 0.67 % in 2014 and 0.27% in the 2019 elections.

Cope will go back to Parliament. We are campaigning and recruiting many people and many people are coming to us and saying that ‘we should have listened to you’.

But despite dwindling support, Lekota believes the party is still relevant in South Africa’s dynamic political landscape. Cope barely features in polls predicting the outcome of this year’s elections.

The entry of new political parties led by younger and more popular leaders could also pose a threat to the party’s electoral fate.

Cope will go back to Parliament. We are campaigning and recruiting many people and many people are coming to us and saying that ‘we should have listened to you, we should have respected your advice and now we are seeing all these people stealing state funds and we should have given Cope a chance’. Whether they are the number of people we need to go to Parliament, I do not know,” Lekota said.

Election expert Wayne Sussman believes the outlook for Cope is bleak and this could result in the party not making it to Parliament.

“Its leadership squabbles held the party back. They have never recovered and have declined in every single election. They got two seats in the 2019 elections and went backwards in the 2021 elections,” he said.

“They have small pockets of support in parts of the Northern Cape. They also got votes in Knysna but it is a sorry tale. I just think in these fragmented elections, where there are more and more political parties, it will be very tough for Cope.

“I think the state of Cope today is not a reflection of what he [Lekota] has done in the country. They probably have activists and fewer resources in this election. If they get into Parliament, which is less than likely, they will get one seat.”

Infighting and squabbles

The party has been riddled by internal strife, which played out publicly in 2022 and involved expelled party deputy president Willie Madisha. A Madisha-led faction tried to take over the party while Lekota was battling with his health. This led to members of opposing factions brawling on national television.

This saga was quickly quashed when the executive structure decided to expel Madisha along with another senior leader, Mzwandile Nhleko.

“In the recent period, I was very sick, suffering from prostate cancer, and there were a few people who thought I was going to die anytime. What they did not know is that the doctors were dealing with this and the doctors actually cured me,” Lekota recalled.

“They were asked to come for a disciplinary hearing because it is wrong to say this about a member of the party when the doctors have not said anything. So, those guys refused to come to the disciplinary hearing. If you do not come, the congress national committee will expel you.”

The party found itself in turmoil again in 2022 after prominent figure and former councillor Colleen Makhubele formed the SA Rainbow Alliance [Sara], for which she was expelled by Cope. However, Lekota does not believe Sara could pose any threat to Cope.

The organisation was meant to be an umbrella body comprising parties that wanted to be in a coalition after the elections. However, the plan caused even more discord for the Cope.

“So, while we were busy with the formation of Sara, Mrs Makhubele became one of the people who joined this thing. When we were still discussing the matter, we agreed that whatever alliance we form, we will call it the SA Rainbow Alliance. The next thing we had to do is go to our political parties, to report that we had agreed to form the alliance. We had to call a meeting to elect the leadership of the alliance,” he said.

You don’t have to shoot them or kill them, you just have to arrest them and take them to their countries and then it’s done.

“While we were busy with this [finalising the formation of Sara], we saw that Mrs Makhubele had put up posters that she was the president of Sara. We asked who had elected her, we had not even reported to our organisations. Then she said we do not respect women. She had decided that she was president and she had made posters. She put them all over.”

These two incidents, however, represented nothing new for Cope, having first encountered infighting in its early years, when Shilowa was expelled from the party. Other high-profile members who were booted out include Lynda Odendaal, Mlungisi Hlongwane, Allan Boesak, Onkgopotse JJ Tabane and Phillip Dexter.

While Shilowa has since not been part of any political party, he does provide commentary on key political issues, particularly those concerning the ANC, Cope or the state of Gauteng.

Cope’s 2024 election campaign

The party’s key policies in its 2024 manifesto include controlling South Africa’s immigration crisis, investing in young people through ensuring there is world-class education and skills development, and fighting crime.

It proposes government positions be reduced and the money thus saved on salaries used to uplift citizens.

“We spoke about raising everyone up and improving the living conditions of everybody. Our view is that the size of the government is too big. A lot of the money that ought to go towards improving the lives of people is going to pay all these people,” Lekota said.

“We used to have four provinces and we blew it up, so resources that would have ordinarily gone to infrastructure development, education and training of people just went towards paying salaries.”

Under the leadership of Cope, he said, the government would undertake mass deportations of illegal foreigners.

“I was in Parliament as minister of defence when I was with the ANC. I warned them, I said ‘please monitor people coming in and out of the country, do not allow people who want to sell drugs here’. Do you think that they did anything about it?

“You don’t have to shoot them or kill them, you just have to arrest them and take them to their countries and then it’s done,” he said.

Cope wants to modernise and improve policing and prosecution to hold criminals accountable, and to introduce legislation to foster better cooperation and communication between law enforcement agencies, including the police and the National Prosecution Authority. Police would be trained to conduct thorough and efficient investigations.

Read more in Daily Maverick: 2024 elections

Lekota was instrumental in the fight against apartheid and was imprisoned at Robben Island, and served as publicity secretary for the United Democratic Front.

He was sentenced in the marathon Delmas Treason Trial but was later released after appealing.

After the unbanning of the ANC, Lekota was elected chairperson of the Southern Natal Region and then of the Northern Free State Region. In 1991, he was elected to the National Executive Committee of the party, working as chief of intelligence.

Lekota was the first premier of the Free State following the 1994 democratic elections.

In 1997, he became the first chairperson of the new National Council of Provinces, and in 1999 was appointed defence minister. DM

Lekota to quit as Cope leader after elections, says party still relevant (1)

Lekota to quit as Cope leader after elections, says party still relevant (2024)
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