The Politics of Politics

By Craig Wynn

On Monday last week, I attended the Cope conference at the Rhodes Barratt Lecture Theatre, hoping to find out more about the party that is not yet even three months old. Despite its age, though, it has helped create one of the most exciting and interesting political environments in South Africa since 1994. On an A4 piece of paper, provided to all those who attended the conference, was a summary of their recently released manifesto. Their campaign advert goes far enough to say that to vote for Cope would to “be a part of history”. By saying this, they are showing that they know as well as anyone with a faint knowledge in our national politics, that they really are an element of true commotion in the country. So, excited and ready to be educated by South Africa’s ‘new hope’, I braved the horrible weather outside and trekked along to the conference.

Upon arrival, soaking wet, we went through the security checks and found a seat in the fairly full lecture theatre, awaiting the honoured guests and Cope dignitaries. However, the lights all went out, resulting in Cope supporters screaming “ANC sabotage” and we were left in the dark for nearly an hour, waiting to see what happened next. Cope volunteers were running in and out of the building making arrangements and finally arrived with a few small emergency lamps. Once these were set up, the speakers and guests were lead in to incredible applause from the audience.

Dr Thabisi Hoeane, an esteemed lecturer at the Department of Politics and International Studies, gave the introductory speech. This included him admitting to not being a member of Cope himself, but explaining the current political ‘situation’ in South Africa, so to give a background to Cope’s speeches.

The speeches were given by Cope’s youth movement leader Anele Mda, second deputy president Lynda Odendaal and Head of Policy, Smuts Ngonyama. When these began, for the most part, all was well. However, it was nothing special. They listed their hopes and aspirations for the youth of South Africa, clearly doing so merely because they were speaking to that very demographic. If they were giving a speech at an old age home in an underprivileged area, for example, they would have claimed that their greatest goal is to emancipate and care for the elderly and impoverished. That’s a fairly normal technique that politicians employ.

But then what is it about Cope that’s so fresh and new? Nothing, actually. As a friend of mine said, “the best thing about Cope, really, is just that they are the only real threat to the ANC at the moment.” And that is a very good thing indeed. Yet, I fear that the main reason for this is that they are really no different to our current leaders. As their slogan says, a vote for Cope is a vote for hope. Hope for what? That’s the question. The answer, though, I really don’t know.

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