/ 10 May 2008

Zuma calls for end to alliance tension

African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma has called for a closure of the ”chapter of tension and mistrust” between the ruling party and its alliance partners.

Opening an alliance summit in Midrand on Friday, Zuma said the ANC’s national conference in Polokwane in December was followed by visible unity between the ANC, the South African Communist Party (SACP), the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco).

”Arising from this historic summit, we must close the chapter of tension and mistrust and open a new chapter of unity and action and mutual respect.

”We have spoken in one voice on issues facing our country and continent, the food and fuel prices, the energy challenge and the crisis in Zimbabwe,” he said.

”We returned to the old tradition of the alliance wherein we approach issues from a common platform.”

The relationship between the ANC and its alliance partners had become somewhat strained under the leadership of President Thabo Mbeki, with the SACP and Cosatu accusing the previous ANC leadership of sidelining its partners and failing to consult with them on key issues.

The SACP and Cosatu played a significant role in securing victory for Zuma in his bid for the presidency of the ruling party.

Zuma urged the alliance to tackle development problems facing South Africa, most notably poverty, which was critical in the context of rising food and fuel prices.

Focusing on unity within the alliance, Zuma stressed that the partners, while part of an alliance, remained ”autonomous entities”.

”While we work together in practice, each component of the alliance is an autonomous entity. No alliance partner can dictate to, and seek to control others,” he said.

”I am therefore confident as we deliberate in the summit, we will be able to rise above our recent uncomfortable past, and address the issues objectively and comradely for the sake of our organisations, our people and our country.”

Call for change

While Zuma’s political report kicked off the conference on a conciliatory note, leaders of the SACP and Cosatu made it clear that they expected real change from the new ANC leadership.

SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande called for a ”reconfiguration” of the alliance.

He urged delegates not to discuss the alliance in an abstract way and also to revisit the relationship that had developed between them.

What was occurring at present was ”firefighting”, for example the crisis at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), he said.

Nzimande said the SABC’s board was ”imposed on all of us by force”.

Citing the electricity crisis as another example, Nzimande said when the issue of privatisation was raised by the alliance partners, they were told that they did not see the bigger picture.

”Of course we couldn’t see the bigger picture … because it’s dark,” Nzimande quipped during his strong address lightened with a smattering of humour.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said that in the past, the relationship between the ANC and its alliance partners had been characterised by ”hostile public interaction”, but the election of Zuma as ruling party president ”ushered in a new situation”.

”We are holding the alliance summit in that mood, which is very different from the mood that would have existed in the past,” he said.

Vavi reiterated that while Polokwane had opened doors, the real test would be whether real change would take place.

He made it clear that Cosatu expected to see a visible shift to the left by the ANC.

”Post-Polokwane is about reversal,” he said.

It was about reversing an economic situation that favoured employers as opposed to workers and the bourgeois as opposed to the poor.

Vavi described the current political environment, with different leaders at Luthuli House and in the Union Buildings, as ”difficult” and told delegates it would be ”unwise” for them to ignore this matter.

ANC secretary general and Sanco chairperson Gwede Mantashe sat on the stage flanked by Vavi, Nzimande, Cosatu acting president S’dumo Dlamini, ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete and ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe.

Delegates from the leadership of the ANC, the SACP, Cosatu and Sanco gathered to discuss Zuma’s political overview after the input by Vavi and Nzimande.

On Saturday, they were expected to break up into commissions discussing, among other things, economic and social transformation.

A summit declaration was expected on Sunday, the final day of the gathering. — Sapa