Cosatu, ANC rift deepens

2010-11-02 18:59

Johannesburg - A civil society gathering hosted by Cosatu last week had taken an "oppositionist" stance toward the ANC-led government, party secretary general Gwede Mantashe said on Tuesday.

"We noted that the ANC, the (SA Communist Party) and (SA National Civics Organisation) were not invited, positioning the conference as an alternative block to the alliance," Mantashe told reporters at Luthuli House in Johannesburg.

"We call it oppositionist because there is a difference between political criticism of an ally or an organisation you are party member of and you position yourself opposite to that party.

"It's not an opposition party, but the stance is oppositionist. And we think it's a dangerous populist approach to disagreements and it is intending to create a crisis where there is no crisis."

He was speaking after a meeting of the ANC's national working committee on Monday. The conference last week was hosted by ANC ally, Cosatu, and included civil society formations.

At the two-day gathering, a labour breakaway from the ANC was mooted, but shut down.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi also denied suggestions the conference was testing the waters for a new political party.

Mantashe said the ruling party did not believe the majority of Cosatu's leaders intended to effect regime change in the country.

"... but we nonetheless caution that an action like the one of leading a charge for the formation... of a mass civic movement outside the alliance and the ANC might indeed be interpreted as initial steps for regime change in South Africa."

Vavi's attacks on "black political parties" and the "notable omission" of the Democratic Alliance further reinforced the conference being interpreted as a move toward a breakaway.

Mantashe said despite assertions the conference was not "anti-government or anti-ANC", Cosatu's failure to invite the ANC and to allow the government to respond to criticism levelled at it, pointed to the opposite.

Despite this, Mantashe said the ANC's relationship with Cosatu remained "working" and "workable".

There were disagreements, but in the end, the ruling party and its labour ally would talk to each other, he said.

Mantashe acknowledged there were problems, saying perhaps these could be attributed to an "ideological shift" within Cosatu.

"Many of these issues... old debates that were defeated in the 80s and in the 90s, and if they re-emerge now and they have the resonance in the federation, it may point to the ideological shift in the federation itself and the shifting of the balance of forces to the extreme.

"If that happens within the federation, it will also create difficulties in the working of the alliance."

No disciplinary action

A temporary cease-fire between the ANC and Cosatu emerged after the ANC's national general council (NGC) in September after months of tension over the country's economic trajectory and the ANC's perceived soft stance against corruption.

The fall-out prompted the ANC to mull disciplining Vavi, but the idea was eventually canned. Vavi remained vocal and critical over what he termed the "predatory elite" and "political hyenas" in the ranks of the ruling party.

ANC Youth League president Julius Malema urged the ANC to discipline Vavi over his "political hyena" comments, saying this went against an NGC resolution to avoid public spats.

Mantashe on Tuesday said the NWC was "appalled" over Vavi's "predatory elite" remark. He added that public spats were directed at a particular person, while Vavi's comments were "generalised".

"... when you generalise and say there's a smell of predatory elite here, you are not attacking a person... we can't go out and say 'listen you are attacking comrade so and so... therefore there is a public spat... therefore we must punish you'."

He however added that generalising was more harmful than being specific.

"... those generalised statements cause more harm than being specific... because when you throw generalised statements... actually you are casting aspersions and innuendoes that cause more damage then specific cases."

No disciplinary action could be taken against Cosatu as it was an "independent" body in an alliance with other independent parties, the ANC and the SACP.

"They are not a labour desk of the ANC, they are the trade union federation independent of the ANC, but in an alliance with the ANC."

The ANC would convene an urgent meeting with Cosatu to discuss its qualms.