The Centre for Policy Studies analyst said morality would not be a key factor in the April elections and Cope had therefore misjudged the mood by fielding Bishop Mvume Dandala as a counterweight to Zuma.
"The problem with this approach is that it assumes that moral issues are big in this country and they are not a big electoral issue. They were trying to create a distinction with Zuma and the voter is not interested," he told the Cape Town Club.
Matshiqi said the African National Congress would lose some support over the corruption charges against Zuma stemming from the arms deal, but not where it mattered most, namely its mass support base.
"The ruling party has fielded a candidate facing corruption charges. Anywhere else a ruling party would not take that risk.
"Anywhere else a ruling party would be more sensitive about allowing somebody like [ANC Youth League leader] Julius Malema to run amok. But they can afford it because the damage does not extend significantly to the rank and file, to their supporters or to voters."
KZN ‘a huge headache’
He said Zuma was likely to win new voters for the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal as some traditional Inkatha Freedom Party supporters could see him as a more attractive Zulu icon than the increasingly "tired-looking" Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
"KwaZulu-Natal is a huge headache for the IFP. For the first time the ANC has a leader who is seen to be genuinely and truly Zulu.
"He has cordial relations with the king. This ANC leader is seen wearing leopard skins, he is a polygamist … his appeal cuts across political affiliation."
Matshiqi predicted that the protracted, politically fraught case against Zuma was unlikely to ever go to trial.
"My daughter is 18 months old and if you asked me what will happen first – will she get her pension or will Zuma be prosecuted – I will say she will get her pension."
Matshiqi said several recent events, including the Jackie Selebi case, warned that South Africa was at risk of becoming a so-called deep state where what happens is determined by the covert, converging interests of politicians, big business, crime bosses and the intelligence community.
Hopes that the Congress of the People could prove a strong alternative to the ruling party were however fading just three months after its formal launch in Bloemfontein, he added.
Voters stay put
"I’m going to corrupt Shakespeare: the split created the desire but Cope seems to have taken away the performance."
Claims that the Eastern Cape had become a stronghold of the splinter party and could go to Cope in the elections should be taken with a pinch of salt, he said.
Recent by-elections in the province showed that politicians have walked over to Cope but that voters have not followed because the ruling party held on to all eight seats vacated by ANC deserters.