The election of senior Cosatu leaders on to the ANC's national executive committee (NEC) is likely to deepen divisions in the trade union federation and pit moderates against radicals, alliance leaders told the Mail & Guardian this week.
Cosatu leaders differ on whether their elevation to the ANC NEC represents a victory, or is fraught with more dangers than benefits.
One of those elected to the party's top structure in December, Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini, is convinced the election of Cosatu leaders into the ANC's top structure would give the federation an edge when dealing with worker issues.
Other senior Cosatu leaders elected to the NEC include National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) general secretary Fikile Majola, National Union of Mineworkers president Senzeni Zokwana, Cosatu Free State secretary Sam Mashinini and former general secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers Union Thulas Nxesi. They all campaigned for the re-election of President Jacob Zuma and their election to the ANC's top positions is seen as a reward for their efforts.
General secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and Cosatu's National Union of Metal Workers general secretary Irvin Jim have opted to retain their independence and rejected nominations for the NEC.
Senior alliance leaders who preferred to remain anonymous predicted a more acrimonious relationship between the two main factions in Cosatu, aligned respectively to Vavi and Dlamini. Dlamini's faction is expected to isolate Vavi further, who has been critical of Zuma's leadership in both the ANC and the government. Vavi, however, appears unfazed and is unlikely to back down on his criticism of the ruling party.
Cosatu to continue to criticise the ANC
Vavi tweeted recently that it would be a mistake for Cosatu to adopt an uncritical stance against the ANC. "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," he tweeted. Jim told the M&G this week that Cosatu would continue to criticise the ANC and the government if it failed to implement pro-worker policies.
"We are going to accelerate [our] criticism until the aspirations of workers are addressed," he said. "To the extent that the ANC is allowing [neoliberal policies], including inflation targeting, we will continue to raise our concerns. The ANC accepted growth and redistribution instead of growth through redistribution." said Jim.
He expected Cosatu leaders elected to the ANC NEC to continue to articulate the federation's positions. "I don't think [electing Cosatu leaders into the NEC] is a bad idea. The challenge is to influence that structure in line with the thinking of the organisation [Cosatu]."
Though Cosatu's aim for allowing its leaders to serve on the ANC NEC carries hopes of influencing the ANC from within, last month's ANC congress took resolutions that differ with its position on several issues such as nationalisation, youth wage subsidy and labour brokers.
A Cosatu faction aligned to Vavi believe that Dlamini and other moderate leaders will try hard to neutralise those who are pushing for radical policy positions in Cosatu.
An alliance leader who preferred anonymity said: "The ANC has both Cosatu and the [South African Communist Party] where it wanted them. They are now more indebted to the ANC than the ANC is indebted to them. They [Cosatu leaders] went to the ANC because they said they don't want to shout from the streets. They can't shout anymore because they are inside.
"There is democratic centralism in the ANC. They are not ex-officio in the NEC. They can't find themselves representing Cosatu. Once they publicly question decisions that they were part of, there will be trouble. They are likely to sell their soul to the highest bidder," said the alliance leader.
Dlamini rubbished suggestions that those elected into the ANC NEC would compromise Cosatu's independence.
Despite criticism, Dlamini insisted he would be able to manage the contradictions of wearing two caps.
"I'm a person who believes in the position of the organisation. I'll defend Cosatu positions whether I'm in the ANC or not and I'll defend ANC NEC positions when I'm speaking for the ANC," he said. "It's my duty to lead and be the face of the organisation ... When Cosatu has taken a decision it is the duty of its leaders, especially the president, to advocate those decisions without fear or favour."
Nehawu general secretary Fikile Majola told the M&G: "It is incorrect to say the deployment of Cosatu leaders into the ANC NEC is wrong. I have engaged Zweli [Vavi] to say that it is wrong to take a stance that, if he is in the ANC NEC, this will compromise the independence of the federation.
"Even if Vavi was in the ANC NEC it won't change the position of Cosatu. I see no confusion. Navigating between alliance positions is nothing new," said Majola.
He added: "To influence the ANC you need serving trade unionists. It doesn't mean the ANC doesn't have working-class ideology. There are many people in the ANC who have never been in Cosatu [who] ... understand the interests of the workers."
Wits associate professor and political analyst William-Mervyn Gumede said: "The move is fraught with a number of dangers. It will make it very difficult for Cosatu to criticise government. If government doesn't deliver, Cosatu will be part of this failure.
"If their members lose confidence in the ANC, they will also lose confidence in Cosatu," he said. "This will lead to further disillusionment amongst Cosatu's rank and file as seen in Marikana and De Doorns in the Western Cape."