Dear Zweli, just don’t do it

2012-03-19 00:00

DEAR Mr Vavi,

Sir, as you know, I’ve been following you around for some time now. I’m usually one of those irritating journalists who sit in the front of press conferences, who asks slightly irritating questions. I’m also someone who really complains about your economics. In fact, sometimes, I’m downright rude about your economic beliefs. Skip the sometimes if you like. I really do believe that banning private schools and private health care, upping the tax take and forcing every single company to provide almost from the womb to the tomb for workers simply won’t work. And I think that nationalising the commanding heights of the economy is a very bad idea (and, yes, I get the difference between your “for the people” nationalisation, as opposed to another, more personalised brand).

Having said all of that sir, I have always believed that while we need the ANC to protect us from your economics, your job is actually a much bigger one. We need you to protect us from the ANC’s hegemonic tendencies.

You see, at the moment, you are perhaps the biggest legitimate political voice that is not in government. What I mean is, you’re powerful, have influence, are seen as a major factor by our people. But you are not in the commanding heights of the ANC. You are not quite an opposition force (while some seem to expect this of you, I understand why you are not), but sometimes you are able to provide us with an opposition message. This is crucial. As the ANC starts to lose the safety valve that a certain young kitten used to provide, you are having to take over that role. There is a reason, sir, why you were able to campaign in Port Elizabeth during last year’s local government elections, and many other ANC figures were not. It’s because of that position which you hold, legitimate, trusted, but not an insider. As a result, you were able to explain how things had gone wrong, and yet still be the face of the organisation under whose watch they had gone off the rails.

Now I understand that the folk at the National Union of Metalworkers of SA are pushing for you to go into the ANC’s National Executive Committee. I know also that you are not too keen. But the pressure is mounting. Just three weeks ago, I watched President Jacob Zuma himself piling it on. He told Numsa’s political commission that union leaders should be in the NEC, that that’s where decisions are made which mattered, and thus the big unions should be represented.

It must be tempting. There is an invitation to come and sit at the top table. To be able to have a say in the corridors of real power, to be part of the meetings that matter for this country’s reality. And there’s a good political reason for you to do it. One of your biggest constituencies, the metalworkers, is asking you to. So you can honestly say that you are being asked to do it by the people who you represent. And at the same time, if you don’t mind me saying so Sir, you must be getting a little frustrated. You have been doing the same job, as Cosatu gen-sec for over 10 years now. In our fast-moving political world, that’s a long time. Someone in your position would be forgiven for having some serious ambitions for something different, or even better.

But Sir, I have to paint a picture of what it would look like, if you were to succumb.

Remember Blade Nzimande? You know, the guy who wasn’t scared to take on Thabo Mbeki? Who is now, it seems, just too scared to do almost anything that can somehow be seen as an attack on Zuma? Who has succumbed to his own Stalinist tendencies? He is now in a position where he will march against toll roads and labour brokers, but won’t say publicly that toll roads are wrong. In fact, he has to get his party to suggest an investigation into “who benefited” from the roads’ construction, because it’s the only way he can indicate his displeasure.

Sir, Nzimande has never been as important to our democracy as you are.

Take the Protection of State Information Bill. For your organisation, for the unions of this country, it’s an existential threat. If it is passed in its current form, there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth across the land. But no one will know about it, because they won’t be able to report on it. It will be a national calamity of the worst order for all of us.

Now imagine not being able to say anything about it.

Your political life, as an honest person, a person who is seen as politically legitimate will be over.

And Sir, even worse. There will never be another person who can take your place. They will be stifled at birth by the fact they will have no oxygen, the very stuff of political life itself, freedom of communication, will be gone.

Sir, we need a figure who is in, but not inside, someone who is out, but not an outsider, a person who is able to command thousands out onto the streets, but is not a government commander.

In short Sir, your country needs you.

Don’t do it.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Grootes

• Stephen Grootes is an Eye Witness News reporter. This article first appeared on za and iMaverick.




THE time is ripe for the Cosatu general secretary to move from being an alliance partner to the ANC top structures. Perhaps the general secretary’s term in office should come to an end to ensure that the organisation remains dynamic and influential.

If I were to make reference to the not so distant past, the majority of the stakeholders in the alliance argued that the former ANC president, Thabo Mbeki, had stayed long enough in office. By implication, the alliance partners were stating that the practice of remaining in office too long stifles the progression of the movement.

By the same principle, I assert that, considering that the Cosatu general secretary has held this position since 1999 , this year (2012) would effectively be the 13th year in the same position.

It appears that the “legitimate political voice” referred to by Stephen Grootes is not yielding the results and I foresee that this state of affairs is not likely to change if Zwelinzima Vavi “keeps out” of the ANC top structures.

The strategy of being the external “powerful” voice is evidently not enough in bringing forth the agenda of the proletariat for which Vavi has been tirelessly advocating.

The time has now come for him to adopt a new strategy. Vavi should now persuade the ANC top structures internally to formulate and adopt policies that are “pro working class and the poor”.

Grootes says that Vavi is “the biggest legitimate political voice that is not in government”. This is not a valid enough reason for Vavi to remain in office indefinitely as Grootes is implying. Vavi is merely a voice of an organisation. He himself is not the congress.

The ideas and arguments expressed by Vavi are a consolidation of all the ideas and arguments within the congress. Therefore, Cosatu and the principles for which it stands would still be in place even if they were to allow another leader to emerge as its voice, who in time will also become just as powerful, even if Vavi himself were to accede to the proposal of moving to the top structures of the ANC.

If Vavi chooses to move into another position within the Tripartite Alliance, he will inevitably be empowering the younger leaders within the congress to rise by getting an opportunity to develop their leadership potential for the cause of the working class and the poor.

If Cosatu allows for new leadership to emerge, it will avert a situation similar to what has happened with the progress of SACP leadership which has been restrained by Blade Nzimande’s refusal to relinquish his position as the SACP general secretary. A situation where an organisation is impaired as a result of leadership change is one which is not desirable and one which Cosatu should make a conscious decision to avoid.

Grootes’ final bone of contention is implicitly that should Vavi accept the offer made to him to join the ANC top structures, Vavi too will be corrupted.

I say it will be the final test of his character. An opportunity for him to continue to enforce the principles of being pro working class and pro poor but from another angle, in a position where he “will have an opportunity to be able to have a say in the corridors of real power, to be part of the meetings that matter for this country’s reality”.

If you “do it” Vavi, the working class have a greater chance to be considered in the formulation of policies that govern South Africa.

• Richard Sizwe Sokhela is chairperson of the ANC Branch at uMngeni Municipality Howick Ward 5 in Karkloof. He writes in his personal capacity and the opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily the opinions of his branch.

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