That is if they are serious about their claimed objectives of political realignment to have a formidable opposition to ANC rule.
The picture of Shilowa pouring UDM leader Bantu Holomisa water may be a clear sign of the power dynamic between the two. The merger of 800-odd members who Shilowa led out of COPE with Holomisa’s 66 000-strong members of the UDM is a most curious move.
Holomisa and Shilowa didn’t mention race in their statement and press conference held this week, but they do lead one to assume that what they aim to build is a viable black opposition party to take on the ANC.
The DA can’t shake the perception that it is a white party that fronts black “leaders”. Holomisa has in the past emphatically rejected the DA as a sleeping partner, so it makes sense that he would gather members from dying parties instead.
“No party can ever win an election unless it appeals to the vast majority,” Holomisa said.
More curious is the announcement at the joint press conference of Holomisa and Shilowa, that Shilowa will not actually lead his 800 disciples.
He will “not be party to such integration for personal reasons, he supports the process and will actively work for its success…”, the statement reads. This is just as bizarre as the infamous four-day DA presidential candidacy of Mamphela Ramphele.
Thankfully we were spared a nauseating kiss between Shilowa and Holomisa.
Shilowa taking a back seat is probably better for these 800 disciples and the UDM; his reputation seems tarnished beyond repair as a decisive political player, and I don’t see why Holomisa would take on his baggage as he tries to grow the UDM into a party that “takes charge” and will “not allow corruption to destroy the gains of freedom”.
In the 2009 general elections the UDM got just under 150 000 national votes, and a united COPE just over 1.3 million. COPE was new and untested then, and the media being what we are, gave them a push-start that was ruined by the infighting and various court battles between Lekota and Shilowa.
With this latest move one can only imagine that many of the 1.3 million who voted for COPE may be persuaded to cast their ballots in favour of the UDM if it concentrates its campaigning in COPE strongholds.
It is anyone’s guess how this new partnership will fare on May 7, but one thing I am prey certain about is these 800 members will feel a big difference as an opposition party of substance.
Hopefully they will find this new home a more peaceful one than COPE, where there is constant, embarrassing leadership bickering. And for their sake, I hope that Shilowa sticks to his resolve to lead from the back.
Sexwale is a media and communication strategist with an interest in current affairs.