The people behind Cope are no angels. They share responsibility for guiding the ship of state into troubled waters. By increasing the competition for black voters, however, they may yet benefit South Africa.
Cope was born out of internecine conflict between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, the ANC leader. It was Mr Mbeki’s defeat as the ANC president in December 2007 and his forced resignation as state president last September that precipitated the unravelling of the ANC. Both Mosiuoa Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa, Cope’s leader and deputy leader respectively, are close to Mr Mbeki.
The new party’s birth comes at a propitious time. In the 2004 election, more than 50 percentage points separated the ANC from the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance. The governing party controls all nine provinces and every main city, bar Cape Town.
This hegemony ossified political discourse and undermined constitutional checks and balances. The ANC has used a combination of race politics and deployment of its “cadres” across much of South Africa’s public and private sectors to destroy the wall between the party and the state. It diminished parliamentary accountability and hobbled supposedly independent institutions, such as the South African Broadcasting Corporation. It has also attempted to stifle debate on contentious policies, including Aids and Zimbabwe.
The tribal tensions behind the split – Mr Zuma, the presumptive state president, is a Zulu and the new party draws much apparent support from Xhosa‐speaking regions traditionally associated with former president Nelson Mandela and Mr Mbeki – are somewhat blurred. They are certainly less sharp than the black‐white division that has characterised voting for the ANC and the DA respectively.
Encouragingly, Mr Lekota and Helen Zille, leader of the DA, said they would co‐operate and possibly form coalition governments in those provinces where the combined opposition won a majority. Mr Lekota also recently emphasised a return to “rainbow nation” politics and a retreat from the racial quotas that have driven the government’s economic policies and public appointments.