Ramaphosa's not-so-secret weapon: Cosatu

South Africa’s biggest labour group, Cosatu, is campaigning for a strong mandate for President Cyril Ramaphosa in next month’s election and vowed to fight any attempt by factions within the ruling party to remove him from power after the vote.

Ramaphosa’s narrow victory for leader of the ANC in December 2017 has left him with a tenuous grip over the party and speculation that the losing faction linked to ex-President Jacob Zuma and secretary-general Ace Magashule plans to maneuver him out of office before his next term ends.

Support from the Congress of South African Trade Unions was instrumental in helping Ramaphosa win, and to replace Zuma as president a year ago.

“That will be the day they want to kill the alliance. We will oppose” any attempt to remove Ramaphosa, Cosatu General Secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali said in an interview in Bloomberg’s Johannesburg office. “It will be the worst kind of betrayal.”

The powerful labor federation's roughly1.8 million members are encouraged to vote for the ANC, giving Ramaphosa a big potential support block. Opinion polls show the ANC may improve its showing on May 8 to about 60% from the 54.5% it garnered in a municipal ballot three years ago.

New Dawn

“Ramaphosa is fighting for political survival, and I think there will be an attempt to take him out soon after the election,” Andre Duvenhage, professor of politics at North West University, said by phone. “If he’s going to create a new dawn, Ramaphosa needs to be statesman. He needs to rely on personal popularity.”

A strong mandate for Ramaphosa, 66, in the election could give him more clout within the party and allow him to push through reforms the rating companies say are needed to boost anemic economic growth and improve credit profiles. Initial optimism after Ramaphosa took over the presidency in February last year has faded as power blackouts and budget constraints weigh on sentiment. Business confidence is back below levels before he took over.

“We want to get the ANC 60% and above,” Michael Shingange, Cosatu’s first deputy president, said. “Given our work, because we are on the ground campaigning for the ANC, the party is going to get the necessary majority in order for them to implement their resolutions.”

No Coalitions

The labour federation expects the ANC to win an outright majority in Gauteng, but would not back a coalition should the ANC fail to get 50% in the province.

“If they were to come to us to ask whether they should go into coalition with any other party, we would say: No,” Ntshalintshali said. “They must learn to be an opposition. By the way, the ANC is a bad opposition wherever they are. They have not mastered the issues of being an opposition.”

The ANC lost power in the Western Cape province in 2009 and its support declined in each subsequent vote as infighting curbed its ability to win back voters.

Cosatu is positive about Ramaphosa’s performance so far as president, and supports his moves to improve law enforcement agencies and to boost confidence in the economy.

“All hell will break loose as far as the alliance is concerned” if the ANC tries to remove Ramaphosa, Shingange said. “If they attempt it, and suppose they succeed, well, God help us.”

Find everything you need to know about the 2019 National and Provincial Government Elections at our News24 Elections site, including the latest news and detailed, interactive maps for how South Africa has voted over the past 3 elections.

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