Cosatu’s support of Zuma led to ‘raw deal’

2017-04-30 06:01
President Jacob Zuma at the 23rd national freedom day celebration in Manguzi Kwazulu Natal. Picture : Siyanda Mayeza

President Jacob Zuma at the 23rd national freedom day celebration in Manguzi Kwazulu Natal. Picture : Siyanda Mayeza

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Trade federation Cosatu believes it was dealt a rotten hand after supporting President Jacob Zuma and his camp’s ascendancy to leadership at the ANC’s 2007 national conference in Polokwane.

Cosatu, which was a key backer of Zuma before and after Polokwane, says it regrets being lulled into complacency and allowing “neoliberal policies” to continue.

In a draft secretariat report penned by Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali ahead of the four-day central committee sitting at the end of next month, the federation speaks of a “honeymoon period in which the left axis suspended its struggles and ... displayed blind loyalty, and invested its political fortunes to the Polokwane outcomes and later in Mangaung”.

In 2012, Zuma secured a second term as ANC president during the party’s conference in Mangaung.

The report harshly criticises the ANC-led government for failing to transform the apartheid economy.

“The left forces in South Africa led a charge that led to the sweeping changes in Polokwane and dislodged, but did not defeat, the ideologues of neoliberalism inside the movement,” reads the document.

“In the process, the left axis was wittingly or unwittingly co-opted as spokespeople and apologists to explain the failures of the neoliberal policies in the hope that things were going to change for the better.”

Cosatu says the implementation of the Polokwane resolutions and election manifesto commitments were substituted with cosmetic changes that did not tamper with the “fundamental structure of the apartheid and colonial economy”.

Instead, the ANC and its allies were distracted by a series of mistakes that placed the governing party on the back foot.

These mistakes contributed to growing discontent, a sense of alienation, frustration, disappointment and despair among South Africans.

Ntshalintshali uses the handling of the Nkandla scandal as an example, and he says it should never have happened in the first place.

'We have our enemies, our weaknesses'

Declining membership among its industrial affiliates is giving Cosatu headaches.

The draft secretariat report penned by general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali shows this could alter the character of the federation.

By 2012, private sector membership had dropped to 61%, while that of the public sector had risen to 39%.

The situation is now far worse because, since then, its biggest affiliate – the National Union of Metalworkers of SA – has been expelled and the Food and Allied Workers’ Union followed the metalworkers to the new federation Saftu, headed by former Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.

The Cosatu report flashes warning lights that this change in dynamics could weaken the federation.

Two years ago, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe earned the wrath of public sector unions when he warned that, once the trade union federation slanted towards the civil service, it would be in trouble.

The concern in Cosatu circles is that, because industrial workers are at the coalface of exploitation, they will probably be more militant.

The dominance by public sector unions could weaken its stance.

Cosatu’s membership stands at about 1.7 million. About 2.8 million workers belong to unions that are not affiliated to Cosatu.

This means Cosatu has failed to fulfil its 2003 national congress resolution of increasing membership by 10% every year.

Cosatu is worried about the fact that 73% of workers in South Africa are disorganised; that affiliates are poaching members from each other; that there is a muting of Cosatu national office bearers who intervene in affiliates as they are subtly threatened with removal from office; and that there is a growing “self-serving” culture among leaders and personnel.

To deal with its cash crunch and prevent splurging on congresses, the report proposes the possibility of having in-house Cosatu conference facilities.

In addition, the federation’s detractors have identified Cosatu’s weaknesses.

“The biggest danger we face today is that we have exposed our acute weaknesses to our class adversaries and detractors in the name of being open and transparent, but we did so without addressing our weaknesses adequately,” Ntshalintshali writes.

“Political stampede”

Still, the alliance, in particular the ANC, refused to learn from its mistakes.

“The Constitutional Court judgment on the Nkandla report by the Public Protector that ruled against the country’s president has also created a situation in which the revolution as a whole has been put on the back foot,” Ntshalintshali writes.

His report comes as the leadership battles to contain affiliates’ objections to Zuma speaking at Cosatu’s Worker’s Day celebrations in the Free State.

Traditionally, the president of the ANC speaks at the rally alongside the leaders of Cosatu and the SA Communist Party (SACP).

This week, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union and the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union called on the federation’s top leaders to bar Zuma from the rally in line with a recent central executive committee decision that the president resign from office.

They were joined by the smaller but vocal Commercial Workers’ Union.

Cosatu’s officials have responded by saying the decision only related to Zuma’s presidency of the republic, so the ANC was free to deploy him to the rally.

Amid concerns that Zuma could be booed, Cosatu has asked its members to apply maximum discipline.

Cosatu’s strong stance, the secretariat report reveals, relates to a number of developments that have rattled South Africa.

These include Zuma’s recent Cabinet reshuffle, which happened without consultation of alliance partners and without consensus from the ANC top six, and the Public Protector’s State of Capture report, which raised questions about how the Gupta family had captured some sections of the state, including Zuma.

Others are the alleged abuse of state security agencies, the accusation and later withdrawal of charges against axed finance minister Pravin Gordhan, the current contested regional and provincial conferences in KwaZulu-Natal, and the accompanying political assassinations there.

Cosatu also bemoans the functioning of the alliance, which it says exists in speeches only, and not in decision-making and implementation of policy.

“It is not obvious that consensus policy positions that emerge from alliance deliberations find expression in ANC policy directives, nor is it obvious that ANC policy directives will find expression in government policy.

"It is also not obvious that government policy will be implemented by the state bureaucracy,” it says.

In Cosatu’s eyes, the battles leading up to the ANC’s national conference have led to the SACP being “identified as a strategic impediment to be dealt with”.

The document refers to a “political stampede”, where everyone is jostling for power.

It highlights how the succession battles “have become even more acute, brutal, destructive and sharper” as leaders in the ANC plot against each other.


What should Cosatu do now that it has realised its mistake?

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Read more on:    sacp  |  cosatu  |  jacob zuma  |  bheki ntshalintshali  |  nkandla  |  state of capture report

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