Zwelinzima Vavi says the ANC has been unable to reassert the organisation's mission and strategic vision.
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi says the ANC is increasingly being damaged by factionalism, patronage and corruption.
In a hard-hitting draft political report prepared for the trade union federation's conference next month, Vavi also takes a swipe at his comrades in Cosatu, who he claims are preoccupied with campaigning for ANC factions before the party's national conference in Mangaung in December, instead of addressing the challenges workers face.
- Read the full report here
"Cosatu has influence, but on issues that have nothing to do with workers, like Polokwane and Mangaung - that's where you'll start to hear Cosatu. But when it comes to worker issues on the ground and to influence government to change policies that affects workers, you find it asking," the report said.
He decries the government's poor service delivery, including the controversial textbook saga in Limpopo, which he says demonstrates "total" state dysfunction.
While the crises of poverty, inequality and unemployment are deepening, the ANC leaders are focused only on enriching themselves. "Struggles in the organisation are increasingly over control of the levers of accumulation. Those challenging these abuses find their lives increasingly in danger.
"There is growing social distance between the leadership and the rank and file.
"This emerging crisis was clearly identified by the 2010 ANC NGC [national general council] and the organisational renewal paper to the 2012 policy conference. This crisis is systemic and relates to broader crises in the state and society. Because the ANC is the ruling party and leader of the [tripartite] alliance and society, this situation also has profound implications for society more broadly, for governance from national to local levels, for all state institutions and for progressive civil society, including the labour movement," Vavi says in the document.
The crises are laying the foundations for growing disillusionment in society and questions are being asked about the legitimacy of the leadership in the movement and the state.
"Opinion polls … are increasingly showing worrying trends, particularly, but not only, among the youth, which suggest a growing political demobilisation and alienation of society. This includes suggestions that growing numbers of the electorate don't intend to vote in 2014, and increasingly negative perceptions of the leadership.
"Any programme of radical transformation, if it has any hope of succeeding, must rely on mobilisation of the people. Therefore this trend should not be taken lightly, or dismissed as a creation of the media.
"The hostile agenda of certain sections of society and the media can only be effectively countered by a credible leadership, which communicates effectively and takes meaningful action to turn the situation around, including by taking drastic steps to improve the image of the movement."
"In the context of growing social distress and desperation of the unemployed, alienation from the movement can easily be replaced by right-wing populist alternatives which aim to divide workers from the unemployed, South Africans from migrants, promote tribal divisions and so on. Further, spontaneous protest about community problems are too easily dismissed as being the work of opportunist elements … South Africa is now the protest capital of the world."
He warns that the crises could have a direct and indirect effect on the cohesion of Cosatu and lead to a crisis in the federation if they are not handled correctly. "Most obviously, the deepening crisis facing the working class will put growing stress on workers and the federation, particularly if it is not seen to be responding adequately to their most pressing challenges.
"Broader political challenges in the state and the movement also impact on the trade unions, for example in relation to the perception of leadership and the challenge of corrupt and undemocratic practices.
"The 2012 Cosatu workers survey indicated that, while the labour movement on the whole remained vibrant and democratic, some worrying trends were emerging. These suggest in some instances a growing distance between leaders and members and a growth in negative perceptions among members about 'corruption' in the movement.
"Some of this appears to be not literally about corruption in the sense of misappropriation, but about leaders with divided loyalties 'selling out' workers, that is, a decrease in trust and organisational accountability."
He outlines the challenges Cosatu faces in the alliance, including that its proposal to put the alliance at the political centre of the movement and the proposal for an alliance pact, which had not been addressed since 2008. "The party unfortunately has adopted in our view an unnecessarily hostile posture to some progressive civil organisations and coalitions, painted a number of organisations with the same brush and has tended to take the view that they are the product of external agendas."
Cosatu's conference will take place in Johannesburg from September 17.
An earlier version of this article we attributed the following quote to Vavi: "Cosatu has influence, but on issues that have nothing to do with workers, like Polokwane and Mangaung - that's where you'll start to hear Cosatu. But when it comes to worker issues on the ground and to influence government to change policies that affects workers, you find it asking."
This was incorrect. Those remarks were in fact made by members of a worker focus group which was cited in the report, and we apologise for the error.
This is a stupid error, and one we should be embarrassed by, but it doesn't fundamentally misrepresent the thrust of the report.