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Profile: Bishop Dandala

By Mpho Lakaje
BBC News, Johannesburg

Even after another gruelling interview Mvume Dandala, candidate for South Africa's new Congress of the People (Cope) party, remains calm and softly spoken - apparently little changed since his days as a priest at the central Methodist church in Johannesburg.

Mvume Dandala
Mvume Dandala is a respected advocate for African social justice

But some say this might be his downfall in the ruthless world of politics.

"Dandala is weak," says one political observer after listening to Bishop Dandala being interviewed.

"I don't see how he will match the vigour of a man like [governing ANC president] Jacob Zuma."

The new kid on the political block was born Mvumelwano Hamilton Dandala in 1951, but he looks half his age.

When he walks alongside his son Hlomla Dandala, also a prominent member of Cope, the two look like brothers.

"In full my surname is Umdandalaza which means - a strong man," he says, eyes sparkling behind his glasses.

The former Methodist bishop describes himself as a perfectionist who takes failure very hard.

Liberation struggle

Bishop Dandala was born at Mount Ayliff in the Eastern Cape Province.

There is a notion that people in politics cannot be good faith people - that is a misunderstanding
Bishop Mvume Dandala

He received his education in the same region before embarking on a political and religious journey that would eventually place him alongside the country's heavyweights.

Like many of his contemporaries, he fought against the apartheid system and was a member of the United Democratic Front (UDF).

This operated in the 1970s and 80s when many liberation movements, including the African National Congress, were banned.

As leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu were imprisoned, he joined those who carried on the struggle for South Africa's liberation.

Cope's President Mosiuoa Lekota was in the same organisation.

Supporters cheer at Cope's founding conference in Bloemfontein, 16 Dec 2008
ANC dissidents split off to form Cope in December

Bishop Dandala may be new in post-apartheid politics but he has impressive credentials.

He has two doctorates, one in philosophy and the other in theology, and won a Distinguished Humanitarian Services Award in 1993.

The former South African Council of Churches president is also respected worldwide for being a peacemaker and advocate for African social justice, and for his role in the Methodist church in Southern Africa.

Less poetry

Political analyst Adam Habib from the University of Johannesburg says he, for one, is convinced that "Cope took a clever decision in appointing him".

Bishop Dandala knows that in politics it takes more than academic success to persuade ordinary people.

FROM FOCUS ON AFRICA


Even his wife of 36 years, Ntombizodwa Ntukwana, admits that her husband has embarked on a thorny journey that will see him spending less time writing poetry, his preferred recreational activity.

But after serving the Church for decades, how will he fare alongside those accused of having gained from corrupt arms deals and unscrupulous government tenders?

"God will always be my guider," he says. "There is a notion that people in politics cannot be good faith people. That is a misunderstanding of faith completely."

He quickly quotes a verse from the bible to back up his point.

Bishop Dandala's first test will be to wow South Africans to vote for Cope.

Even though the party remains an underdog to the mighty ANC, he is optimistic about leading it in April's poll.

"I'm slowly beginning to feel what it means to be a politician now," he says.



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