The ANC and Cosatu are embroiled in a bitter public spat at the Mangaung electoral conference in spite of an impassioned call for unity by Jacob Zuma.
The labour federation's general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi on Tuesday took to Twitter to air his views on tripartite alliance relations, in defiance of ANC leaders railing against public criticism between aliance partners.
"If Cosatu was to agree to stop its stance of critical support to the ANC, Cosatu will die first followed by the ANC and then democracy," Vavi tweeted, barely hours after new ruling party leadership was elected in Mangaung.
The ANC offered an equally antagonistic response to Vavi's comments. "We think it is premature of Cosatu to make such remarks about ANC leadership at the time when we are electing leaders to the NEC," spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said.
Mthembu said Vavi should respect the ANC elective process and reserve his comments for platforms within the tripartite alliance. "Some of the issues Comrade Vavi raised should have been reserved for alliance engagements and not dangled to the media," he added.
Vavi's tweet followed a stinging rebuke of the labour federation by ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe in his organisational report at the conference on Sunday. "It is always awkward when any alliance partner pronounces negatively on the other alliance partners and the other partners only discover the problem in the media. Alerting the other alliance partner is not tantamount to giving away the right to take independent decisions," the report read.
Cosatu and Vavi in particular have been outspoken in their criticism of the ANC and government lately.
In November Vavi called on the party to move away from being the "Absolutely No Consequences [party]" and become the African National Congress again.
"Whether it’s about textbooks or about corruption, absolutely no consequences. Unless we can change from that, our country is going to be eaten by dogs," Vavi said.
E-tolling and business interests
In the run-up to the conference, Cosatu was also heavily critical of the ANC-led government's attempts to implement the controversial e-tolling system. Cosatu hosted a go-slow on Johannesburg's highways a fortnight before the electoral conference. Despite impassioned calls by the labour federation, the general public and the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) - a civic organisation formed in opposition to the system - to join the
protest action, it was poorly attended.
E-tolling requires commuters to fit an e-tag on their vehicles, which will monitor each time they pass a specific gantry on the highway and charge them electronically. Cosatu opposes the plan as they feel it will negatively affect the poor and working class.
The labour federation has also vehemently opposed labour broking and campaigned to have it banned; a call the ANC and the government has failed to act on.
In a later tweet, Vavi called for an end to government officials conducting business while in the employ of the state. "Cosatu policy says leadership must choose between being in business or servants of the people and live within the means provided by office," he tweeted.
Vavi said the call was Cosatu's attempts to "address the conflict of interests which are breeding corruption and abuse of power today".
These comments should come as no surprise as Vavi has consistently spoken out against malfeasance in the public sector and currently serves on the board of Corruption Watch, an NGO promoting accountability and transparency in government.
The current standoff follows the election of billionaire businessman Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC deputy president. Ramaphosa and the ANC have not clarified if their new deputy president will forgo his business interests in light of his new position.
Although Ramaphosa is not an elected government official at present, he will most likely be Zuma's presidential running mate in the 2014 general election. Ramaphosa's business dealing could easily form a conflict of interest as he is the founder and chairperson of Shanduka, an investment holding company in sectors ranging from resources and financial services to property and infrastructure.
This row could be setting the scene for a showdown between Cosatu and the ANC-led government after Zuma also hinted at a more robust engagement between the state and labour.
Zuma also hinted at the return of school inspectors during the delivery of his political report - something the South African Democratic Teachers' Union, who is a Cosatu affiliate, has strongly opposed.
"Some might oppose this, some of our friends in labour even don't like this idea. If they don't then we will just send them to find teachers not doing their work," Zuma said.