Zuma clears the decks for lead up to Mangaung

2012-02-25 16:56

President consolidates power, taking on Cosatu’s powerful general-secretary Vavi

President Jacob Zuma has flexed his political muscle by starting to clear obstacles in his way towards the party’s elective conference in Mangaung in December.

Buoyed by his widely praised state of the nation address earlier this month and by the declining influence of his detractors in the ANC Youth League, Zuma this week consolidated his power by:

» Going on a charm offensive to the unions;

» Dismissing supporters of suspended youth league leader Julius Malema who disrupted his lecture in Cape Town on Thursday as “ill-disciplined”.

His power was also asserted by his Cabinet, which this week:

» Insisted on introducing wage moderation for public servants as announced in Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s budget on Wednesday, despite Cosatu’s resistance to it;

» Refused to budge on Cosatu’s demands to scrap Gauteng e-tolls, although his cabinet showed “generosity” by slashing the fees;

» Decided to push on with the controversial Constitutional Court review, for which Zuma has declared his support, saying more details will be announced on Tuesday.

Despite harsh criticism from unionists, on Thursday Zuma pleaded with union leaders to get more involved in the ANC.

Addressing delegates at the metal workers’ union Numsa’s national political commission in Johannesburg, Zuma said it was a mistake for unionists to stay out of the national executive committee (NEC).

This was a veiled attack on Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, who refused nomination to the NEC in 2007, saying he wanted to remain independent.

That was a “shortcoming,” said Zuma. “You can’t say because I am the leader of a union, here is my place, and the ANC will see itself through. Nor can you say the (SA Communist) Party must see itself through.

“How do you influence progressive national politics in South Africa if you are not at the centre where progressive decisions are taken?” he asked.

Cosatu has been critical of Zuma’s leadership, saying after its extended central executive committee last year the president had been “indecisive” and that he couldn’t be “everything to everyone”.

At the Numsa gathering Vavi said, without mentioning names, that the current ANC top six officials represented “galel’ebhayini” (mixed masala) leadership, insinuating they were a mixture of good and bad.

He bemoaned what he described as the departure of “conscience”, saying it was likely to make 2012 a “terrible year”. He said there was an unfriendly political climate in the ANC towards critical union leaders.

“Any statement gets analysed in terms of the perceived camps that are already forming. So the space for open discussion among ourselves is very reduced.”

While the unionists seem to welcome Zuma’s invitation to swell ANC ranks, they are clearly unhappy with the party’s performance under his leadership.

Numsa deputy general-secretary Karl Cloete yesterday called for an “overthrow” of the ANC’s NEC, but he wouldn’t say whether or not the union would support the ANC’s top six in its entirety.

Unionists believe the party has dragged its feet on issues such as labour-brokering because some ANC leaders might be benefiting from such activities.

Despite this, Zuma has received a strong boost from ANC structures themselves, with all the leagues, including the youth league, publicly condemning the disruption of his Cape Town lecture. ANC leaders vowed to take disciplinary action against those behind it.

Western Cape sources said disciplining those involved would smoke out Malema’s supporters in the structures and embarrass them or force them to publicly pledge support for Zuma.

“Malema is now being equated with ill-discipline, while Zuma is the representative of discipline in the party,” a source said. 

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