JOHANNESBURG, Dec 17 – The launch of South Africa’s new political party is overdue in a country dominated by the ruling ANC for 14 years, but the challenger must keep its promises, media reported Wednesday.,
The Congress of The People (COPE) was launched Tuesday by disenchanted members of the African National Congress, with promises to address poverty, crime, unemployment and review the racially-charged affirmative action policy.
"But the show is over now and the hard work begins. There is an election to fight," read an editorial in The Star daily newspaper.
"They can claim to be everything the ANC is not. They can talk colour. They can draw in the big names. But until the majority of South Africans see their issues on COPE’s agenda, then the new party is a non-starter."
Just three months before the country holds its fourth general election since the end of apartheid in 1994, the new party is billed as a potential upset to a political scene where former liberation movement the ANC has held a near two-thirds majority without serious competition.
"COPE brings hope that ANC hegemony can be broken," read a headline in the Afrikaans daily Beeld newspaper.
Preaching true non-racialism and inclusivity, in a nation where politics is still divided along racial lines, COPE attracted a diverse crowd to its inaugural rally with former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota at the helm.
The party was formed after the ANC forced president Thabo Mbeki to resign amid ongoing political turmoil and accusations the party had forgotten the people as it fights political battles and its own narrow interests.
The Times newspaper said COPE was "long overdue" and even those who did not support the party should welcome its formation in a country hungry for new options at the polls.
"Its message that the constitution, the independence of the judiciary and reconciliation should be protected is powerful," read the Times editorial.
"Without political competition, the disenchanted become cynical non-participants, poisoning the well with their disdain for political and social life."
The Business Day echoed concerns about an increase in political intolerance in the country, as verbal sparring was pushed to the edge.
"The key question is whether SA’s political system is mature enough for this. The ANC seems unduly threatened by the new party and its behaviour has been often childish, or worse, irresponsible," read the editorial.
In response to COPE’s launch, ANC leaders and allies have swept up supporters at rallies by referring to their opponents as dogs, snakes, cockroaches and baboons.
The party has also been slammed for statements declaring they will "kill" in support of their leader Jacob Zuma, who held a rally addressing veterans of the party’s military wing during apartheid a stones throw away from COPE’s launch.
"The last thing SA needs now is election-related violence in any shape or form," said the Business Day. "More must be done to build a culture in which robust political competition is welcomed not feared."