Why COPE Failed in South Africa

There’s been some hand-wringing for a while ever since Jacob Zuma consolidated his position as next leader of the African National Congress. Zuma has a variety of unsavory characteristics, including serious charges of corruption and even rape, and poses some risk that South Africa will slide off its promising path of democracy and relative prosperity.

At the same time, though South African politics isn’t something I follow closely, I had a vague sense that it might in some ways be a good thing. Zuma’s ascension led to some of his rivals in the ANC leaving to form their own political party, the Congress of the People (COPE), which raised the prospect of giving South Africa a credible, black-led opposition party. That would, it seems to me, be a very healthy development since the ANC’s structural supermajority, no matter how well-deserved, presents a constant temptation to abuse of power and so forth. But when the elections results came in, COPE proved to be a huge bust. Eusebius McKaiser and Sasha Polakow-Suransky have an interesting article in The New Republic laying out some of the reasons why.