Last week’s Mail & Guardian report on the meeting between the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the African National Congress, at which unionists were accused of scheming to undermine President Thabo Mbeki, went down like a concrete balloon. There was a stony silence from the presidency, which has a self-defeating policy of not responding to anything the M&G carries. Apparently fearing it would be fingered as the source of the leak, Cosatu went further, attacking the report as malicious and factually inaccurate. It refuses to give details of the alleged errors, however, saying the meeting was “private”.
However embarrassing the report may have been to some, it was based on impeccable information substantiated in other ways. At the heart of the ANC’s complaints was a 50-page document alleging a right-wing conspiracy against Mbeki and his party, under left-wing colours. Every bit as off-beat as the ANC executive committee’s “briefing notes” of last year, it claims international and domestic forces, including this newspaper, are harnessed to the skulduggery. Do the ANC leaders who attended the meeting dare deny the existence of the document? If we have misrepresented its contents, let them publish it.
As we also reported, the meeting ended on a conciliatory note. This, combined with the decision of the ANC lekgotla to seek consensus on a new economic growth path, including a “growth summit”, has given ANC moderates and unionists hope of real engagement on economic policy. They believe that there is a prospect of a negotiated settlement in the National Economic Development and Labour Council and alliance forums on the vexed issues of economic restructuring.
The M&G welcomes this. We have no sinister agenda, cooked up by the CIA and international Trotskyism, of disrupting the alliance. Our view has always been that sensible programmes of privatisation and public-sector reform hold potential benefits for all South Africans. The hard fact is that these policies cannot succeed without the cooperation of the unions, and their fears ? particularly of wanton job destruction ? have to be addressed. Cosatu needs to moderate its extraordinarily wide definition of “privatisation”, which includes public-private partnerships, outsourcing and even private competition for state monopolies. In exchange, the government must confront more seriously labour’s fears of job losses and costlier services to the poor.
Of course, there may be some tactical manoeuvring in the apparent ANC shift motivated by the need to pacify malcontents on the political left ahead of the party’s national conference this year. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, with the first test being next month’s follow-up bilateral on economic questions. We hope, however, that the unions will not abandon their correct insistence on anti-retroviral treatment for HIV-infected pregnant women and rape survivors.
There can be no meaningful progress in a climate where union leaders are seen as subversive schemers. On the most sympathetic possible reading, the plot claims were a softening-up tactic. If genuine consensus is the aim, all the nonsense about “ultra-leftists”, “counter-revolutionaries”, “bourgeois media” and conspiratorial “gangs” must come to an end. Moreover, it does not behove a man pretending to international leadership to be associated with paranoid political behaviour.
Among all the potential alliances mooted between South Africa’s political parties, that between the Pan Africanist Congress and what it calls “the Boers” would demonstrate the most intriguing volte face.
The PAC’s move to embrace the constituency that it has been threatening to “drive back into the sea” since the 1960s, or, more recently, deal with on the simple basis of “one settler, one bullet,” is quite remarkable. Or perhaps it isn’t. The PAC is famous for saying one thing and doing another ? or nothing. Its boast during the 1994 election campaign that the party’s true strength would be revealed at the ballot box exploded in its face, with a support base that was widely derided as translating into “one settler, one bullet, one percent”.
Instead of fading gracefully into the background, the party, or rather individual members of its outrageously disunited leadership, continued to make wild claims about the party’s glowing future, and its authoritative place in the national body politic. Its latest announcement could be dismissed as yet another petulant cry for attention. But it is odd that in the same week that the PAC reiterates its support for President Robert Mugabe’s farm-invasion tactics in Zimbabwe, it offers the hand of unity and friendship to the constituency that would be victimised by these policies if they were to be implemented here.