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South Africa must do more to close the gap between rich and poor, President Jacob Zuma said on Monday at a congress of union allies who want him to take tougher action against unemployment and poverty.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) was instrumental in helping Zuma to power in April, but unionists have been unable to get him to shift from policies they condemn as too pro-business and have gone head to head with him over a series of pay strikes.
Zuma assured Cosatu, which has 1,9-million members, that creating jobs and improving the lives of the poor were the policy priorities of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
“The ANC must now use its victory and control of state power to improve the quality of life of the poor and marginalised,” Zuma said, without promising specific action.
Thousands of union members attended Cosatu’s four-day annual conference. The group wants economic policies it says will bring jobs and improve the lives of millions of black South Africans still living in poverty 15 years after apartheid ended.
As well as more spending, they seek an end to inflation targeting by the central bank, which they blame for sharp interest rate increases last year.
They also demand a seat on the bank board and want it to come under full state control.
Cosatu president Sidumo Dlamini said Zuma and the government should not take the labour federation’s support for granted when it came to choosing his successor, suggesting the union body may toughen its position if its demands are not heeded.
“When that debate comes we shall not be neutral.
Zuma said the fact that South Africa was in its first recession in 17 years should not make the ruling party and its allies shift from their goals.
“We will make a difference in the lives of our people if we make drastic improvements in health, education, rural development, the fight against crime and the creation of decent work, our key priorities,” Zuma said.
But he condemned lawlessness seen during recent strikes and protests over slow delivery of basic services such as electricity and water in townships.
“Violent strikes violate other people’s right of association and undermine the cause of workers.”
Dlamini told the congress that the economic crisis was not of workers’ making.
“Workers therefore should not be made ... to bear the brunt,” he said.
Dlamini said that enemies of the workers’ movement are within the ranks of the tripartite alliance.
“These enemies of our movement are not just on the outside, but we have built and constructed them for years.
“They are within our own ranks, inside the ANC, in the midst of South African Communist Party cadres, and they are here among us at Cosatu,” he said.
Dlamini said the “1996 class project”—a name for supporters of former president Thabo Mbeki—had been defeated, but cautioned that it continued to struggle against the working class.
He warned that remnants of the project “inside state apparatus” were “encouraging capitalists not to be cowards”.
The Mail & Guardian on Friday quoted Dlamini as saying Manuel was the last “hope” for the revival of the project.
He told the M&G Manuel was using the planning commission to position himself as “second-in-charge”.
“He wants to be seen again as this super-minister and every minister should go to him, bow his head and say, ‘Please, Mr Manuel, can we have this?’ ” Dlamini was quoted as saying.
The ANC backed Manuel after Cosatu’s criticism, saying “principles rather than individual personalities” should be debated.
On Monday Dlamini maintained that the alliance, was nonetheless, here to stay and stronger than ever.
“There are no hostile differences within our ranks as we speak to you at this time.
“The doomsday prophets ... are now painfully swallowing their words,” he said.
Dlamini said the ANC was now back “to its right owners”, and the SACP was stronger.
While there were differences, which would always be there, there were now overlaps in policy.
He said rural and skills development, as well as national health insurance, were now part of the government’s programme.
Speaking out against those who used their positions for personal gain, Dlamini said officials received positions and “within four to five months a person is filthy rich and they cannot explain where it comes from”.
“This has got to stop,” he said.
He also spoke about the situation in Zimbabwe and that in Swaziland, criticising its chairing of the Southern African Development Community’s security troika.
It was a shame that Swaziland’s monarchy was allowed to occupy the position and criticise Zimbabwe when the situation was worse in Swaziland. “We want freedom in Swaziland,” he said.
“I doubt Zuma is frightened by the unions”
Analysts said while Zuma was likely to be open to debate at the congress, Cosatu would not dictate his policy.
“I doubt Zuma is frightened by the unions,” said Sanusha Naidu, a political analyst at think-tank Fahamu.
In the draft resolutions, Cosatu also called for a review of the country’s black economic empowerment (BEE) policy, saying “the black bourgeoisie benefits on the sweat of workers through BEE companies”.
In order to right apartheid wrongs, South Africa requires firms to meet quotas on black ownership, employment and procurement to offset racism and stimulate the economy by creating a black middle class.
But several deals have collapsed as the global crisis has caused the value of shares used as collateral to fall and critics argue the drive has enriched a small black elite while doing little to boost the economy.—Reuters, Sapa
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