Cope delegates wreck venue
Broken doors, smashed chairs, flooded toilets mar conference
WHEN the party’s over, someone has to clear up the mess – and that job lay with a Pretoria church that was counting the cost yesterday of Cope’s spectacular, but not unexpected, meltdown.
“Never again,” said the Heartfelt Arena’s Eugene Pienaar, when the Weekend Argus asked him whether he’d hire out the venue again for a similar event. “Not for any political party.”
Broken doors, smashed chairs – used by feuding delegates – and “severe damage” to the hall floor, caused by rocks hurled yesterday morning, were among the damage being listed by Pienaar yesterday morning as his team started mopping the floors of flooded toilets and clearing up waste and other debris.
In the bar of the VIP lounge, its tables strewn with the litter of takeaways and even an abandoned box of delegate registration documents, a crumpled Cope banner lay on the bar – testimony to the aftermath of the bitter battles that played out.
With Cope president Mosiuoa Lekota claiming the current “consensus” leadership remains until a proper conference is held, and his deputy Mbhazima Shilowa now calling himself president after an impromptu vote by his followers, Cope is in more of a mess than ever.
Pienaar said Cope hired the venue two weeks ago for about R200 000, including sound system, cameras, projector screens and a car guard team. The party was to use the venue from Tuesday until midnight on Thursday for its first national conference to elect leaders.
The feud between Lekota and Shilowa set the scene for a gathering that simmered with tensions and suspicion, spilling over into violent clashes that the police had to break up.
“On Wednesday we realised there were large divisions in Cope and that they could not handle it,” Pienaar said. “We had positive relations with them, but it (the conference)
The feud between Lekota and Shilowa set the scene for a gathering that simmered with tension, suspicion
was just too badly organised.”
Pienaar said he had insisted that police be called to stand by after delegates hurled chairs at each other in the early hours of Thursday morning – injuring about 13 delegates on what, ironically enough, was Reconciliation Day. The chair-throwing saw Shilowa followers routed from the hall – an indication of the balance of forces.
“With a large event like this, you cable-tie the chairs… it prevents people from picking up the chairs and throwing them.”
Pienaar said while Cope organisers had agreed to use ties, it was not done.
Pienaar said his staff had refused to come to work on Thursday because of fears for their safety.
Food and other supplies such as toilet paper ran short at around 3am yesterday. Delegates had spent the past two days bedding down in buses, the hall and meeting rooms because no accommodation had been organised and by dawn tempers were frayed.
Thozamile Botha was punched in the face after plead- ing with Shilowa not to abandon the elections for which delegates had waited for three days. Lekota then told around 3 000 cheering supporters to follow him to a new venue, where they would elect leaders.
But when they arrived at the Tshwane Events Centre (Pretoria Sports Grounds) they were chased away by members of the ANC Youth League attending the controversial World Festival of Youth and Students, hosted by the National Youth Development Agency.
The League accused Cope of “invading” the conference, but the party’s Phillip Dexter dismissed this as “absolute nonsense”.
Buses loaded with delegates were then directed to head for home, while the leadership repaired to a Hatfield hotel.
Back at the Heartfelt Arena, Shilowa and his supporters had an impromptu conference outside, where he was anointed Cope leader by a small group.