n Journal of African Elections - A brief history of factionalism and new party formation and decline in South Africa - the case of Cope

Volume 14, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1609-4700



There is little analytical literature on the theory and empirical analysis of party factionalism that leads to splits and the formation of new political entities. The existing theoretical literature identifies factors and processes that are split-enabling. When coupled to the dynamics of organisational change, these conceptual tools provide a unique framework for analysing party-political dynamics in South Africa from an historically comparative perspective. This analysis identifies key trends in party splits in both 'white' and 'black' politics, which serves to illuminate more recent developments with regard to the realignment of opposition politics in South Africa. A conceptual framework combining organisational theory with the literature on party factionalism and party splits has facilitated our case-study focus on the formation, electoral performance and decline of the Congress of the People (Cope) as an opposition party in South Africa. We argue that Cope emerged from factional disputes within the ANC and has subsequently largely been shaped by the dynamics of its split and formation from the ANC, despite its attempt to break ties with the parent party. Existing analyses of Cope examine its performance in terms of policy, electoral and oppositional performance, while the approach this article adopts is to argue that the process of Cope's formation significantly shaped the conditions of its future internal dynamics and political performance.

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