- A High Court ruling in South Africa has granted the breakaway group from the governing ANC the right to use the name "Congress of the People", or COPE, removing the last hurdle for registration. The party already showed its muzzles in this week's Western Cape by-elections.
Today's High Court ruling removes the last hurdle for COPE to register as a political party, as the governing African National Congress (ANC) has opposed to several name suggestions for the new party. In the case of the name COPE, the ANC opposed it referring to its historic 1955 Congress of the People, where the Freedom Charter was written and signed.
"The ANC does not believe that this name should be appropriated for the exclusive use of any political party, particularly one that had no involvement in that historic event," the disappointed ruling party said in a statement after the High Court decision was read out.
The new party is however made up of senior ANC members, leaving the party after an internal power struggle caused President Thabo Mbeki to step down in September and Jacob Zuma taking effective leadership of the dominant party. COPE is headed by former Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota and includes the prominent former Gauteng Province Premier Mbhazima Shilowa.
The new party's press spokeswoman Palesa Morudu, today said COPE welcomed the court judgement. "This was nothing but a bullying tactic by the ruling party to frustrate a normal democratic process whereby people can exercise their right to belong to a political party of their choice," Ms Morudu said.
The party spokeswoman holds that COPE had already "become the biggest political formation in the country with over 400,000 members," referring to a stream of followers allegedly requesting membership from local representatives and through the party's new website.
"We hope that the ruling party welcomes the judgement," Ms Morudu said. "More importantly that the ANC accepts the changing political landscape in our country and that the existence of COPE can only strengthen democratic values and culture in our country," she added.
While the party's success in recruiting members is disputed, it however did manage to gain surprisingly many votes in its first electoral test this week; during municipal by-elections in the Western Cape Province. In that poll, COPE won 10 out of 27 wards, far more than the ANC, which never has done well in that province. The Democratic Alliance (DA), until now South Africa's main opposition party, lost most votes to COPE, however.
COPE's victory in Western Cape is however impressive, given that the formation yet has to be registered officially as a political party by the Electoral Commission. During the by-elections, COPE candidates therefore had to run as independents.
With today's High Court ruling, the road is now open for COPE to register as a political party, in due time to contest next year's general elections in South Africa.
Already on Tuesday next week, COPE is to organise its first congress in Bloemfontein to officially launch the party and adopt a political platform and programme.
And COPE chairman Lekota leaves no doubt about the new party's government aspirations. During the Bloemfontein Congress, "We must ask ourselves this question: Why should the people of South Africa vote us into power? What are the necessary concrete and practical policy programmes that we will introduce to better the lives of our people?" he urges delegates. And he already assures voters that under COPE's leadership, South Africa "will not become just another failed 'African' state."
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