Zuma dances, sings, and woos the unions
- Cosatu: Vavi and Dlamini go unopposed
- Vavi, Dlamini under siege as the battle for Cosatu begins
- Cosatu: Stage set for bitter infighting
Wearing a worker's shade of red and smiling broadly, a relieved President Zuma on Monday welcomed the "new" leadership of the Congress of South African Trade Unions at their national conference in Midrand.
But it was said mostly in jest. The trade union federation's top six leaders remained unchanged without even so much as a single delegate vote as no one was successfully nominated to contest any of the positions.
Hence Zuma's relief – "pro-change" union leaders, who would see him ousted at the ANC's elective conference in Mangaung in December, would prefer a leader less sympathetic to Zuma than Cosatu president S'dumo Dlamini.
But he retains his position alongside his popular general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi. The two often don't see eye to eye, with Vavi frequently criticising the ruling party.
Dlamini came out in full support of Zuma shortly before the conference, saying a second term would unite the federation. The ANC's succession battle is dividing both the ruling party and its alliance partners, with a large theme of this conference being the looming presidential vote in Mangaung. With Cosatu's leaders remaining unchanged, the battle will move from personalities to policy as a proxy fight for the larger issue: who will rule the ANC, and by extension the country, next year?
Zuma came out fighting, aiming to convince thousands of delegates he had done a good job at leading the ANC in his term thus far. His speech, delivered in his usual monotone, focused on four key areas.
The tragedy in August that saw 34 miners shot dead by police in a violent stand-off is still fresh in everyone's minds, with Zuma and Cosatu's largest affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), under fire for showing a lack of leadership and for not nipping the volatile situation in the bud. News from the weekend that army and police raided the areas surrounding the mine also drew criticism, but Zuma defended the use of force to stablise the situation, saying the levels of violence and intimidation warranted it.
Echoing Dlamini's take on the issue, Zuma blamed socio-economic inequalities for the massacre. He took care to acknowledge the NUM's own losses in a situation, where the union has come under fire for failing to lead its members and the miners' loss has largely overshadowed any other in the public's mind.
"We also offer condolences to the National Union of Mineworkers, which lost shop stewards who were brutally killed during the first week of the illegal strike," said Zuma.
Noting that the judicial commission of inquiry, which he appointed, was yet to establish the facts, he still emphasised "a few immediate lessons", namely decrying the culture of violence in our labour relations; calling for all parties concerned to find a solution to the current striking impasse; and noting that the total rand value of production lost in gold and platinum due to work stoppages over the past nine months was close to R4.5-billion.
Continuing on the theme of the mines, Zuma urged mine bosses to honour the provisions of the mining charter, including investing in skills development, employment equity and ownership as well as local community development.
"Companies intending to invest in mining in South Africa must understand that they are, in terms of the law, expected to redress past imbalances in the mining industry," he said.
Mining companies have been found wanting in this area. A leaked report from 2006 revealed that although Lonmin is aware of the poor living conditions and poverty in the communities around its mines, it hasn't implemented sustainable community projects.
Zuma hinted at a large announcement to come in response to the crisis in South African schools, which saw learners in Limpopo go without textbooks for months.
"I will in a few days announce actions we are taking regarding the Limpopo textbook debacle," he told delegates.
Zuma also said the department of basic education has been directed to improve the distribution logistics so that books arrive in schools on time next year. But government has not honoured a court interdict to deliver textbooks to schools by June 15. The organisation has since filed new papers at the North Gauteng High Court.
Zuma followed a familiar theme of underscoring the damage done by apartheid before going on to boast about the gains made while the ANC has been in power.
"We should not listen to those who are making a career out of rubbishing our country and the gains of our national democratic revolution," he said.
His highlights included:
- Achieving the UN Millenium Development Goal of reducing the number of people living on less than one $1 a day.
- 15-million people on social grants with free access to health care for the poorest.
- 1.7-million people on HIV/Aids treatment, an increase from 600 000 in 2009
- 20-million people tested for HIV/Aids since April 2011
- Reduction in mother-to-child transmission of HIV/Aids from 8% in 2008 to 2.7% in 2011.
- 8-million children at no-fee schools
- 20 000 schools receiving food
He finished his speech with the ANC's trademark "Working together we can do more" before launching into "amandla" and reminding the crowds of his charisma by leading them in singing and dancing, including singing the controversial Umshini Wam.
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