Cope del­e­gates wreck venue

Bro­ken doors, smashed chairs, flooded toi­lets mar con­fer­ence

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - PEOPLE - GAYE DAVIS and ANDISIWE MAKINANA

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.

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