Is Cosatu in Zuma’s corner?

2012-09-22 11:38

It did not have the feel of the 2007 Zunami, but by the time President Jacob Zuma had finished speaking and started singing his trademark Umshini Wami, the 3 000-strong Cosatu audience, dressed in ANC colours for the day, swayed and sang to his tune nonetheless.

If Zuma’s quiet entrance through the main doors of the Gallagher Convention Centre hall in Midrand, where Cosatu held its congress this week, showed he was somewhat uncertain about the labour federation’s support for him, it was a done deal by the end of the four days: Cosatu is likely to swing Zuma’s way.

The support of the ANC’s biggest ally is important to Zuma, because even though Cosatu has no voting rights at ANC congresses, its members can lobby branches.

According to Cosatu’s figures, a quarter of its 2.1 million members are also ANC members – about half of the ANC’s 1 million membership.

The ANC will also need Cosatu’s confidence in 2014.

Until recently, the labour federation looked set to dump Zuma.

Its general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, became increasingly impatient with Zuma’s failure to implement programmes Cosatu thought critical.

But at this week’s congress, there was talk of unity and the “Lula moment” (former president Lula da Silva of Brazil had a lacklustre first term, but improved the living standards of his people in his second term through socioeconomic reforms).

So even though Cosatu’s central executive committee will only decide on an official stance in the first week of next month – after the ANC has lifted the ban on nominating candidates ahead of its December elective congress – unionists used the Lula moment as code for Zuma’s second term.

Metal workers’ union Numsa – one of the two mightiest in the federation – ahead of the congress already announced it would support Zuma after having been fiercely critical of him until recently. Its general secretary Irvin Jim told City Press a second term would give Zuma the chance to implement crucial government policies.

He hinted Numsa would want to replace others in the ANC’s top six by saying the union wants “continuity and change” to realise Cosatu’s radical “Lula moment” (or “second phase of the transition” in ANC-speak).

Jim said because Zuma wasn’t “hostile” to Cosatu, the governing alliance stood more of a chance of unity under his leadership of the ANC than someone else – a case of “better the devil we know”.

Cosatu’s second deputy president, Tyotyo James, was less ambiguous, saying Cosatu wanted “continuity”.

“We have (done an assessment) and we support the top six as elected in Polokwane. We made the pronouncement on (supporting the top six) not out of the blue, but based on what they have delivered,” he said.

James said the federation wanted the governing party to negotiate and compromise on leadership rather than run election battles – the way the federation had done in Midrand this week, and the way its other ally, the SACP, had done in Richards Bay in July.

An ANC national committee member who attended the congress said Cosatu had read the signs.

“They looked at numbers and saw two-thirds (of Cosatu’s members) were pro-Zuma, so they decided to start uniting behind that,” he said.

He reckoned the campaign of Zuma’s only expected challenger, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, has floundered so much that Zuma was now the only contender.

Another ANC leader at the meeting, however, said there would still be leaders pushing for contestation in Mangaung because “compromise and agreement don’t necessarily mean democracy”.

As congress closed, delegates sang “Sihamba noZuma, sihamba noPresident” (We are going with Zuma).

But their trust in him is slightly lower and expectations higher than before, and the road ahead is unlikely to be smooth.

The middle class and Malema

Medical aid, insurance, ­investment and loans – trappings of the middle class – were all on offer inside the exhibition hall at Cosatu’s 11th ­national congress this week.

Apart from one or two flash cars – National Union of Metalworkers SA has bought its general secretary Irvin Jim a flash Mercedes-Benz, for instance – the Chevrolets, ­Toyotas and Volkswagens parked outside the Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand, north of Joburg, hinted that those inside were ­sitting comfortably in the middle.

Even the issues that came up for discussion showed an urban, ­middle class leaning in the labour federation and had nothing of the traditionalist anti-gay sentiment that has reared its head in the ANC’s caucus recently.

Cosatu, for instance, resolved to train its members to be sensitive to issues around homosexuality.

It is also apparent in the figures. The federation’s organisational ­report shows that 52% of its members earn above R5 000 per month (the figure for non-unionised workers was 22%) and only 4% earn ­below R1 500.

But general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi recognises Cosatu’s success could become its weakness as well.

He warned on the opening day (Monday) that unionists who were the product of a “living wage” like himself could eventually become so comfortable in their good homes, schools and private healthcare clinics that they forget to fight for the impoverished majority.

Cosatu declared that it would go from its congress and recruit, among others, more young workers (only one in seven of its members are below 30 years), the lowest paid, ­part-time and contract, casualised and seasonal workers.

This comes as expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius ­Malema after his re-election last year declared “nature abhors a vacuum” and vowed he would fill the “gap” of union non-representation for low-paid and informal workers.

Malema more recently tried to appeal to the workers who felt abandoned by Cosatu-affiliated union leaders on the mines.

Although Cosatu’s plans of “closing the leadership gaps where they exist” isn’t something new, the recent events at Marikana mine – which came about partly as a ­result of unhappiness with Cosatu-affiliate leaders having lost touch with the workers – have added just a little more urgency to its calls.

Buzz words from the conference

Five Madoda
Cosatu has been blaming everyone except itself and the government for the wildcat strike and ensuing violence
at Lonmin’s Marikana mine.

SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande added fuel to the fire by telling the story of the “Five Madoda” who in the 1990s were commissioned by the mining houses to mislead workers and break the back ofthe National Union of Mineworkers.

In its declaration on the Marikana tragedy, Cosatu gives the system the biggest blame by calling for an independent commission of inquiry to probe the “history of the mining industry in South Africa” and to work alongside the judicial commission.

Delegates were heard using the term “Five Madoda” to tease delegates from other unions.

Poverty, inequality and unemployment make up an “emerging multiple crisis”, Vavi declared. Vavi said this is obvious according to statistics provided – not by evil anti-majoritarian liberals, but by government’s StatsSA – he appeared to have hit a nerve with the ANC.

Party secretary-general Gwede Mantashe lashed out at Vavi’s report, in which he declares that there is a legitimacy crisis in the ANC and government because of the above.

Mantashe reckoned the report was a bit radical.

Vavi said because the ANC was “increasingly wracked by factionalism, patronage and corruption”, this seeped through to the state, which then couldn’t deliver to the people.

Despite Mantashe’s objections, Vavi persisted with this view.

House rules
Cosatu set out its house rules.

They forbade delegates

to be drunk or to smoke dagga, but they also said: “No signs that prematurely seek to open the debate on leadership of the ANC will be allowed.”

No tribal or war songs unrelated to the class battle were sung, as the rules state, but only songs praising current ANC leaders and dissing expelled ANC Youth League leaders.

But hand signals were in abundance, especially on the last day. There were the usual “V” signs (denoting a second term for President Jacob Zuma, but alternatively also support for soccer team Kaizer Chiefs) and the substitution signs (showing a desire for change).

There was also a new, double shower head sign made by some delegates who want to see Zuma go.

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