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South Africa Opposition Parties Begin Alliance Talks

By Peter Clottey
03 September 2009

South Africa's Congress of the People (COPE) is spearheading talks with other opposition parties to challenge the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in the 2011 local elections.

So far, eight parties are reportedly part of the ongoing talks that could lead to a unified opposition.

But they face a herculean task because the ruling ANC enjoys an overwhelming majority among ordinary South Africans.

COPE was formed last year by disgruntled ANC members, but it performed well below expectations in the recent general election.

Mbhazima Sam Shilowa, first Deputy President of COPE said that there are strong indications of a viable main opposition in South Africa.

"The Congress of the People (COPE) is in a discussion with other political parties in opposition to ask the question, do we think we are in a position to cooperate first inside parliament, secondly outside of parliament and on what issues? Shilowa asked.

He said there is a common understanding among the opposition parties.

"It would appear that almost everyone agrees that there are areas around which we can agree and cooperate in parliament. We now have to look at which other areas outside of parliament," he said.

Shilowa said there is need for unity among the opposition parties.

"From the Congress of the People point of view, the motivation is because it is important for all opposition parties to unite so that you can be able to offer an alternative to South Africans rather than offer them multiple alternatives," Shilowa said.

He said the proposed opposition would be formidable against the ruling ANC.

"It is less about what do we disagree with, with the ANC, but more what do we agree together in the sense of the constitution of our democracy, policy issues and all of that," he said.

Shilowa agreed that the parties face enormous challenges in their effort to find solutions to their varying divergent views.

"It is not going to be easy finalizing them, but we believe that these are areas which all of us must purse and pursue directly," Shilowa said.

He said South Africans have to decide on the number of opposition parties.

"It is important for South Africans to ask themselves a question, do we want to look at following multi-parties of opposition parties or do we want to follow a unified opposition party? He asked.

Shilowa said a unified opposition would be tough to defeat in future elections.

"We know that it doesn't follow that everyone who voted for the opposition vote for us because of what they think of the ANC. But we think if we are able to put forward a unified position of purpose and what we stand for, we may be able to get as many people as is possible on our side and therefore offer an alternative against the ANC," Shilowa said.

He said the opposition parties are working on their differences in anticipation of forming an alliance to contest future elections.

Political observers however believe the opposition parties want to capitalize on the frustration of the ordinary South Africans about inadequate services such as electricity, education, crime and health.

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