Johannesburg - There is a tale in Congress of the People circles about how its president Mosioua Lekota’s face made it onto the election posters of the party during the 2009 elections.
The issue of who the presidential candidate and the face of the party would be was so contentious internally, that a compromise candidate, Reverend Mvume Dandala, was agreed upon as the man to take up this task.
Dandala, a political novice compared to the likes of Lekota, Mbhazima Shilowa, Smuts Ngonyama and the bulk of former ANC heavyweights who formed Cope, was to appear on the posters of the party while the likes of Lekota would use their extensive mobilising experience to woo voters.
But Lekota was unhappy about the decision to ditch him as the face of Cope and, somehow, election posters bearing his face were printed.
As the party unveiled its election posters, it had a hard time explaining why it had both Dandala and Lekota on two separate posters, but could not publicly state that Lekota had forcefully printed posters bearing his own face.
The party went into the election as a divided unit despite being formed a year earlier, and such divisions were to characterise it until this week, when the death knell to its political life was sounded.
Leaders of Cope appeared quite relaxed and friendly when taking questions about the demise of the party in the 2014 national and provincial elections, with Lekota joking with the media.
Such jolliness is welcome during this period, when politicians, journalists and election officials have endured sleepless nights since the results started trickling in.
But as the Cope leaders retreat from the spotlight that will now be taken by the winners, the post-morterm is unlikely to be flattering to the credentials of Lekota and his leadership collective.
They are likely to go down as having presided over the quickest implosion of a political party in the post-democratic era, failing to retain the support of the more than 1 million voters who propelled them to the National Assembly and the official opposition benches of five provincial legislatures,
The party looks set to only get two parliamentary seats from the 30 they got in 2009. Such has been the decline that some of its original founders publicly defected to the ANC and other opposition parties shortly before the elections.
A founding member of Cope and its former head of elections, Ndzipho Kalipa, believes the writing was already on the wall ahead of the 2011 local government elections.
Kalipha, who was part of the Lekota camp when the party was split in the middle between the Lekota and Shilowa camps, said he expected the party to do even worse than the two percent they garnered during those polls.
“We only got two percent for those elections, and it was satisfactory because we were already divided when we went into them.
“It was a very difficult election, and while we had a strategy, it was not being followed by the leadership. You will plan and schedule that Lekota will be in the Free State, but you will find him in Cape Town.
“The divisions in the party were already public and the voters saw that, we were on a fast decline and it got worse with the court fights between Shilowa and Lekota.”
According to Kalipa, he warned the leadership on many occasions through reports that the party was in danger of performing poorly in future but was ignored.
“We basically spent the entire five years locked in internal battles, and neglected the mandate given by the electorate. This dismal performance has been long coming, there are really no surprises,” he told The Sunday Independent.
Political analyst Dirk Kotze said the party could probably engineer a comeback through the local government elections, but was doubtful about the viability of such an option.
“Their situation is worse because there are not even opportunities for coalitions anywhere, these results literally wiped them away.
“This has certainly been the undoing of the party, and they will need something drastic to make a comeback.”
“It can, by no means, be a good reflection on his leadership, and maybe people like (former Cosatu president Willie) Madisha should take a lead role in deciding the future.
“The local government elections in 2016 should probably be their next focus to try and rehabilitate the party, assuming its members remain until then.”
Kotze attributed the decline of Cope directly to its internal squabbles and over leadership positions, the many court cases that accompanied these and its failure to hold a national conference until this year.
In the Eastern Cape, the party was dislodged from the main opposition benches by the DA and leapfrogged by the UDM and the EFF, eventually coming out fifth with just over one percent of the provincial vote.
It secured the votes of fewer than 27 000 people from the more than 2.2 million who cast their provincial ballot, a significant decline from the 13 percent they got in 2009.
In the Free State, Cope surrendered more than 90 percent of the votes they got in 2009, dropping from 11 percent to just 1.6 percent this year.
The DA replaced it as the official opposition in the provincial legislature, while the EFF will have more seats than both FF+ and Cope, who have come out third, fourth and fifth respectively.
Cope was dislodged by the DA as the main opposition in the Northern Cape, with the DA amassing 23.8 percent of the vote, up from 16.6 percent in the 2009 elections.
Cope has also been overtaken by the EFF which received nearly 5 percent, leaving Cope to come in at fourth position with just over 3 percent of the provincial vote.
In Limpopo, the home province of EFF leader Julius Malema, Cope has been removed as the official opposition and kicked to fifth position after the FF+, dropping from the 7.5 percent garnered in 2009 to only 0.86 percent this year.
In this province they will be replaced by Malema’s EFF.
In the North West, the neck-and-neck race between the EFF and the DA for the position of official opposition in the province meant Cope was displaced from that position, dropping from 8.3 percent in 2009 to a paltry 0.8 percent this year.
Though they have been dislodged in many provincial legislatures as official opposition, the situation is worse for the party in the national ballot, where they dropped from a respectable seven percent in 2009 to 0.6 percent this year.
The only consolation for the party appears to be the two seats they are likely to get in Parliament, but for a party that got 30 seats in 2009, Cope looks headed for the political wilderness. - The Sunday Independent