Mosiuoa Lekota: Despite the hurdles, our new party is optimistic for South Africa

The announcement of our intention to form the Congress of the People (Cope) has affected our people's lives in many ways – both positive and negative.

I am, however, sad to report that at times the negative looms as large, if not larger than the positive. That intimidation and paralysing fear is now gripping sections of our society – and I mean fear identical to that of the PW Botha era.

Public servants now talk in whispers when they discuss Cope. Men and women with whom we worked and shared jokes now look the other way when we chance upon each other in state buildings. They explain when we meet elsewhere that they risk their jobs if they are seen to befriend us. Both on the shop floor and at community level, tales of spying on who attends Cope meetings (as under apartheid) abound.

Briefly, in the short period since we announced your intention to explore the possibility of setting yourselves up as an alternative political choice for the people of South Africa, democratic practice has eluded the rulers of our country with alarming speed. President Nelson Mandela's profound early teachings in democracy have forgotten or jettisoned overnight.

But, there is another side to this coin. Today the people of South Africa declare in increasing numbers that, where they were daily getting disillusioned with the [ANC] government of the day, the advent of the Congress of the People has revived their hopes – hopes that were first ignited by the release of President Mandela.

Where some had already lost such hopes, they declare that we have given it back to them. Where many had lost the energy to go and register to vote, they declare that they are on the comeback trail. Many who had never voted before, say Cope is the reason they will now vote. Men and women of conscience, who yesterday hung their heads in shame as they pondered the so-called leaders chosen for them now, look their counterparts in the eye as they engage with them in lively debates on the moral issues of the day.

South Africa has discovered afresh its confidence, voice and energy, and it is now clear to all realists that as Yeats once declared, "a terrible beauty is being born".

Mosiuoa Lekota, the first leader of new South African political party Cope, was speaking at its inaugural conference