/ 19 September 2007

Vavi predicts union backing for Zuma

The head of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) said on Wednesday the union federation is likely to name controversial politician Jacob Zuma as its candidate to head the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

”I must say that he has become a very important symbol among workers and I will not be surprised if this conference endorses him as candidate for the ANC presidency,” Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said.

Such a decision, to be taken during a Cosatu conference this week, would be a major blow to President Thabo Mbeki, who says he will stand for a third term as ANC leader if asked.

The ANC, suffering from the worst infighting in its history, will choose a new leader during its party conference in December, which is likely to see a bitter battle between supporters of Mbeki and Zuma, the ANC deputy president.

The charismatic Zuma is very popular with unions and the ANC rank-and-file despite being tainted by corruption allegations.

Whoever heads the ANC traditionally becomes South Africa’s president, although Mbeki is constitutionally barred from standing for that office when his current term ends in 2009.

Cosatu is part of the tripartite alliance with the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP), but sharp differences have emerged over Mbeki’s economic policies.

The union federation has accused the president of promoting big business and neglecting millions of poor South Africans, who still do not enjoy the fruits of black rule 13 years after apartheid ended. It demonstrated its strength by leading a crippling public-service strike over wages and benefits in June.

Mbeki says he is committed to curing social ills and sustaining South Africa’s economic boom.

”The [conference’s] decision will have profound implications for Cosatu, for the alliance and for the country,” said Vavi on Wednesday. ”For the first time in [Cosatu’s] entire history, we are pace setters in some issues.”

On Tuesday, SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande told the Cosatu conference that abuse of power, corruption and fierce rivalries threaten to tear apart the tripartite alliance. Vavi shares that view and expressed concern that South African leaders are only interested in dominating politics and hurting the country’s democratic credentials.

”Whoever becomes leader, he or she has the responsibility to unite the ANC, and the qualities we are looking for, tolerance of different views, is very important,” said Vavi. ”We don’t see that happening at the ANC at the moment. That’s the reason why there is so much labelling, intolerance backstabbing and palace politics.” — Reuters