The Congress of the People (Cope) is hoping for an electoral comeback – by wooing white voters who are worried about land expropriation or who are not sure any longer that the Democratic Alliance (DA) is representing them.
Cope mainly aims to capitalise on the desperation of Afrikaners for help in their fears around land expropriation and the on-going farm attacks. They found Cope’s public message resonating with them and they got an ear from the party’s President Mosiuoa Lekota, who has reached out to farming communities and Afrikaner groupings since last year.
Lekota became their messiah as he consistently opposed land expropriation without compensation and called for action to stop farm attacks. Last week he joined an anti-farm killings march organised by AfriForum to the Union Buildings and another by ToekomVonk to the US embassy in November. Political analyst Andre Duvenhage said Lekota’s strategy would benefit the party.
“At the moment, the bigger Afrikaner communities do not have any leader to follow and they feel they have no political home anymore. They are looking for alternatives, and that alternative is the Freedom Front Plus and any party that would take up their issues. Lekota is doing exactly that,” Duvenhage said.
The analyst said there were clear indications that some Afrikaners would support Cope because of his strong stance on expropriation of land without compensation. “Generally, the Afrikaner people like Lekota because they see him as a moderate leader and a realist. He is pursuing the right strategies in terms of the African communities,” Duvenhage said.
The party shed massive support as people got disillusioned with the infighting between Lekota and his former deputy Mbhazima Shilowa. Its National Assembly seats dropped dramatically from 37 MPs at the 2009 elections to only three at the 2014 polls. Pakes Dikgetsi, the party’s national chairperson, said tensions within the party contributed to its problems.
“It damaged us. You can say it was the bad season, but we have been working really hard with determination to revive this party. Now there is a positive mood about Cope among people, our task is to translate this into votes,” Dikgetsi said. Lekota justified his talks with the groupings as nation-building and Cope’s belief that blacks and whites must come together, a principle espoused by the late icon, Nelson Mandela.
“All of us are South Africans and South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in diversity. “Many people who had been voting for the DA and the Freedom Front Plus said they had no understanding of our constitution. We have been winning the verbal support of many whites and we believe they will vote for us,” he said. But another political analyst, Ralph Mathekga said he did not see the Afrikaners voting for Cope instead of Freedom Front Plus.
“What is it that Cope has for them that Freedom Front Plus does not have?” Mathekga asked. Deidre Carter, party chief whip, said: “We have weathered many storms. There are new leaves and new blossoms on the trees.”