Protecting worker gains

2009-09-19 15:30

At least 3 000 Cosatu delegates will attend this week’s congress of the federation at Gallagher Estate. Moffet Mofokeng and George Matlala spoke to the general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi.

What is the mood like, going into this congress?

We will go to this congress with one big sense of achievement. We have far greater levels of unity.

What do you want to achieve after congress?

We want to come up very clearly with how we strengthen Cosatu as a federation. Cosatu depends on a strong ANC. Equally, the SACP has to be strong.

What is Cosatu doing to improve relations between the union and the ruling party in Western Cape and North West?

The real first reconstruction will start with the ANC provincial conferences. If they elect a factionalist leadership again that will take us back to that nonsense of coloured and Africanist groupings. We need an ANC leadership that can work well with the alliance. It’s the same thing with North West.

Is Cosatu worried that it has lost Blade Nzimande and other SACP leaders to government?

The people who say let’s rather look at the Constitution and see whether we cannot amend it and accommodate the general secretary, who is a minister, are informed by the slogan that the party says let’s build socialism, build it now.

The other school of thought comes from a logistics point of view. In ­reality, a full-time position means full-time occupation with building the structures of the party. The ­party must have full-time cadres at the most senior level driving the programmes of the party.

Is it still Cosatu’s view that Zuma and his collective should serve ­beyond 2012?

We are defending the Polokwane gains. That is our agenda. That is why generally we back the top six, because we see it as a gain that has to be defended.

Are there any 2012 succession battles that you are aware of, other than that of Fikile Mbalula and Gwede Mantashe?

I don’t want to mention Mbalula and Gwede. We know that people are meeting behind our backs and agitating for change. They are a small group, but we are not taking them lightly. We want to engage with them. I don’t want to reduce it to ­personalities.

What about those pushing for change of the ANC top six?

I may be wrong, but I am convinced that the critical issue now that makes people raise the communist flag and Cosatu flags negatively is all centred around the issue we will tackle in the congress – crass materialism.

People want the secretary-general position because they want somebody who will help them gain access to tender processes.
I am extremely worried about how people get easily won over by business interests these days.

What’s your comment on ministers who hold shares in companies?

We are not opposed to people doing business, including with government. We support black economic empowerment as long as it is ­genuine. Where we think it is a problem is when that business person becomes a politician at the same time, then that becomes inherently contradictory. The temptation to use political power for narrow personal interest is far too great to resist.
I know that people turn blue when we raise this contradiction. This overlap between political and business is dangerous. It will drive our movement into the dustbin of history. That is what we have to stop.

Cosatu and the SACP have in the past complained about Trevor Manuel when he was finance minister. You are now complaining about his new position as head of the ­planning commission.

We have nothing personal against Trevor Manuel. We are concerned about the green paper. It will give powers to the planning ministry. Unfortunately it is he who is in charge and we can’t ignore that.

We can’t ignore that he recently acted as a cheerleader to business and accused them of being cowards. That is haunting us. When you put that person in such an important ­position we are bound to panic.

In the green papers there is no mention of how Manuel’s work and Collins Chabane’s will be monitored. What do you envisage?
The ANC, the alliance and society as a whole should do that. Cosatu has got its own ways of monitoring.

In the discussion documents you ask if it is enough to swell the ranks of the ANC and not know its constitution. Why?

This is embarrassing by the way. A lot of Cosatu leaders are not active in ANC structures. They are good in Cosatu discussions but not in the party. I know that people are very busy. I criticise myself, too. I used to be so active. Now I am only active if there are elections. It’s awful. You can’t just be saying to workers, swell the ranks but that does not apply to us as the leadership. We remain ­ignorant.

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