18.12.2008

ANC taking no chances in Cape

The African National Congress (ANC) said last night it recognised Western Cape as a challenge in the run-up to next year's elections, in a frank assessment of the party's failure to prevail in by-elections in the province last week. The ANC said it would deploy "cadres from national level to rebuild and consolidate our support base in the province".

The party's poor performance in the by-elections and a recent opinion survey show the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) gaining the upperhand in Western Cape, while the new Congress of the People (COPE) also appears to enjoy significant support.

In a statement last night after a two-day meeting, the ANC's national working committee blamed low voter turnout for the party's poor by-election showing, which it said "was caused by our inability to register candidates".

The ANC's renewed focus on the province coincides with a return to the political stage of anti-apartheid struggle veteran Allan Boesak, who yesterday defended his move to COPE, and indicated he would play a major role in trying to win Western Cape for the new party. Boesak said he would take his "vast experience" to COPE and begin work "immediately" to establish COPE's election machinery in Western Cape.

The controversial former United Democratic Front activist, who spent time in jail for fraud, made a surprise appearance at COPE's inaugural conference in Bloemfontein this week. Boesak said he made the decision to join COPE after a "series of long discussions". "I had been adamant that I would not return to politics. I raised a number of concerns and questions (with COPE). About affirmative action ... the Freedom Charter ... the gap between the rich and the poor ... I could only realise my vision in COPE," Boesak said. On his discussions with the African National Congress (ANC), Boesak said he had made it "clear" that he would not "serve in any ANC structure" but that he would be happy to serve his country. It is widely believed that he will be the party's candidate for premier in Western Cape for next year's election.

ANC insiders yesterday described Boesak as an "opportunist" after discussions over his rejoining the ruling party "collapsed" earlier this month. " In his discussions with us, he would accept no less than the position of ambassador to the United Nations," a Luthuli House insider said. After the discussions with Boesak, ANC president Jacob Zuma told Business Day they were part of an ANC attempt to "reconnect" with the mass democratic movement and activists once active in the party. "Part of this group are people like comrade Allan Boesak, who we have not given a chance," Zuma said then. Boesak and others had an advantage as the coloured community was "their base".

Meanwhile, political opponents yesterday shrugged off the "Boesak factor" as a threat in Western Cape.
"Taking people who no longer have a big following but still have a big ego, is more trouble in the long run than a press conference is actually worth," was how one DA strategist summed up Boesak's return to politics.
Independent Democrats (ID) leader Patricia de Lille said she "never thought" she would see the day when Boesak and controversial former Western Cape premier Peter Marais would work together. The latter also publicly joined COPE earlier this month. "People must not underestimate the intelligence and memory of voters. History always has a way of catching up with one," De Lille said. In response, Boesak said: "Ask Patricia if she sees me in the same party as (ANC Youth League head) Julius Malema."

Political analyst Steven Friedman said he saw Boesak's joining COPE as a "celebrity endorsement". "Even before Boesak had legal troubles, there was not significant support for him in Western Cape. While he absolutely believes that he is still popular, there is no evidence that he is still popular. (Business Day)

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